The Role of the Healthcare Environment: Challenges and Opportunities in Reducing Healthcare-Associated Infections

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Kerri A. Thom, MD, MS
Kerri A. Thom, MD, MS

Guest Author – Kerri Thom, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of Epidemiology and Public Health
University of Maryland School of Medicine

As leaders in infection control and prevention, healthcare epidemiologists and infection preventionists must work to educate other healthcare professionals, from the C-Suite to the frontline, on the need to incorporate comprehensive environmental cleaning and disinfection strategies to reduce HAIs. At the University of Maryland, we look to use data to demonstrate how evidence-based strategies can reduce environmental contamination. For example, using methods like fluorescent dye to capture the rate of high-touch surface disinfection, we are able to provide immediate feedback to frontline staff and to report data back to hospital management highlighting the frequency of cleanliness of these surfaces.

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America’s (SHEA) Spring Meeting puts a spotlight on the impact of the healthcare environment in the spread of bacteria responsible for healthcare-associated infections. Healthcare environment research identifies the role of the healthcare environment to contaminate the hands of healthcare professionals, hospital surfaces and medical equipment. The goal of the meeting is to educate professionals in healthcare epidemiology and infection prevention on evidence-based research and policies in this area.

At the meeting, several sessions examine motivation and behavior change techniques that can optimize the efficacy of a good old-fashioned cleaning and disinfection. While hospital cleaning staff often focus on the disinfection of patient rooms’ bathrooms, other near-patient surfaces and equipment can be overlooked. SHEA believes educating staff on the role of the healthcare environment and optimizing worker performance can be one of the most effective measures to adequately disinfect patient rooms.
The meeting highlights emerging technologies aimed at improving environmental hygiene that may also reduce HAIs. Ultraviolet radiation has been shown to help kill important bacteria like C. difficile and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) on high-touch surfaces. In the most recent issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, a study focused on the use of hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) as an effective way to sanitize the packaging of unused medical supplies, potentially reducing hospital costs.

Every day, SHEA members are working to move the needle forward in efforts to prevent and control healthcare-associated infections. As we gather in Atlanta, our hope is to empower healthcare professionals with critical knowledge and resources in the fight against healthcare-associated infections and the role of the healthcare environment to create improved patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

3 comments on “The Role of the Healthcare Environment: Challenges and Opportunities in Reducing Healthcare-Associated Infections”

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    The use of Chlorhexidine for environmental decontamination in my opinion would be totally inappropriate. Chlorhexidine gluconate is principally used for skin decontamination. The over use of antimicrobials can lead to resistance and reduced sensitivity requiring increasing concentrations, with potential for impact on skin health. Environmental decontamination requires diligent cleaning followed by approved disinfectants, of which there are several registered and proven to be effective. There is a trend towards area decontamination using vapour / mist technology for which specific chemistries have already been validated. There is an unknown risk in ad hoc translation of proven technology with alternate chemistry, particularly when it is the gold standard for hand hygiene.

    I am not aware of any research investigating the use of chlorhexidine vapor or mist in the clinical setting to improve environmental hygiene. Current applications of chlorhexidine gluconate in healthcare aimed at prevention of infection include roles in hand hygiene, skin care (e.g. surgical preparation, daily bathing), and central venous catheter maintenance and care. An article that might be of interest is, Understanding and Preventing Transmission of Healthcare-Associated Pathogens Due to the Contaminated Hospital Environment from the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

    Is there some evidence for the use of chlorhexidine vapor in healthcare environment?

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Page last reviewed: July 20, 2015
Page last updated: July 20, 2015