When developing a BYOD policy, most businesses put the majority of their focus on the major elements of the program (i.e. cost and security). This seems logical, considering that developing a clear road map that outlines a secure, cost-efficient plan is the heart of any major implementation. However, there is still one critical element that is often overlooked when creating these implementation plans: disinfection.
It is certainly not a lack of emphasis on the importance of disinfection that causes this element to be overlooked. Hospitals and other healthcare environments understand the importance of disinfecting high-touch surfaces that come into contact with patients and staff. Rather, the novelty of using tablets and other mobile devices in the workplace has created uncharted territory for Infection Control.
We tend to use our cell phones, tablets, and similar mobile devices on a daily basis without even considering the bacteria that may be present on the surface. Average users don’t even think of cleaning or disinfecting their device on a regular basis because the surface looks visibly safe. However, studies have shown that the screen of a cell phone contains 18x the bacteria of an average toilet seat.
Moreover, the screens on cell phones and other mobile devices offer germs a reservoir to linger for days, weeks, or even months. What is most concerning is that many of the top ten most common pathogens that account for over 80% of the hospital acquired infections in the US are also among the organisms capable of surviving the longest on surfaces. For those with susceptible immune systems, simply coming into contact with a screen harboring certain bacteria could result in devastating consequences.
In the case of BYOD, the implications of lingering pathogens extends outside of the walls of the hospital. According to a 2013 study by JD Power & Associates, 51 percent of tablet owners share their devices with at least one other person (Arlotta, 2012). While many see this as a potential security risk, it can be a severe health risk. Doctors and nurses can easily and unknowingly transfer dangerous germs back and forth between work and home, exposing both families and patients to potentially harmful bacteria (Sittig & Ash, 2009).
Mobile devices are only recently being recognized as roaming high-touch surfaces, and thus require frequent disinfection between uses. Typically this involves wiping down the device with a chemical disinfectant, which is not without its complications. In order for these wipes to deliver true disinfection, all on-label instructions must be adhered to (Rutala & Weber & HICPAC, 2008). Failure to do so can leave the hospital liable for any potential complications that can be traced back to the device (Garrett, 2011). Beyond that, the use of chemicals on these devices automatically voids most manufacturer warranties.
Methods of Disinfection for Mobile Devices
So how can you work disinfection into your BYOD policy? There are two main options at this point in time that will ensure your tablets and other mobile devices are disinfected to a level that is safe for human contact: chemicals and germicidal light.
Chemical disinfection is an effective means of disinfecting most hospital surfaces, but it does not come without some of the complications outlined above. However, with proper precautions (i.e. allowing proper exposure time), this method can be an effective means of keeping both patients and caregivers safe.
A newer option that is gaining in popularity is the use of germicidal light to deactivate the bacteria on the surface of these devices. Docking stations and room scanners are being developed to bathe mobile devices with an appropriate dose of light.
Regardless of the method you choose to disinfect your mobile devices, make sure that it is a documented part of your policy. Routinely disinfecting these roaming high-touch surfaces will ensure that patients, doctors, nurses, and all of their families are safe when using these devices – for work or play.