Most people enter the hospital hoping to feel better after they leave, but for 1.7 million Americans every year, this simply isn’t the case. Hospital Acquired Infections, also called HAIs or nosocomial infections, are infections that a hospital patient can develop as a result of their hospital stay (Martin & McFerran, 2008). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that roughly 99,000 deaths each year are related to HAIs (Klevens et al., 2007).
Preventing Healthcare Acquired Infections
HAIs can be caused by multiple different types of viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Currently, bacterial HAIs are more concerning than ever as many infection-causing bacteria found in hospitals are increasingly antibiotic-resistant. HAIs can cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections (known as septicemia, or sepsis), and infections at surgical sites. Doctors and nurses employ careful precautions to avoid the transference of pathogens but can still inadvertently carry germs with them from room to room on the bottoms of their shoes, clothing, or portable equipment. The most vulnerable to such infections include the very old, very young, and immune-compromised. For these reasons, HAIs are particularly dangerous in neonatal, burn, and critical/intensive care units.
Today, the idea that hospital staff, doctors, and nurses might not wash their hands or use clean instruments between patients seems outrageous. It was only about 150 years ago though, that scientists and doctors started to understand the concept of germs and disease transmission. When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis introduced hand washing to the medical community in the 1860s as a means to reduce patient mortality, it was met with opposition and ridicule. Semmelweis had discovered that doctors were unknowingly infecting their patients by not washing their hands between trips to the cadaver lab and examining patients (Hanninen O., et al., 2008), though the simple solution of handwashing was thought by doctors to be insulting.
Now, hospital staff are fully aware of the complications of HAIs and take caution to prevent them. Surgical instruments are cleaned and disinfected thoroughly at high temperatures, surfaces are scrubbed with antimicrobial soaps, and gowns, caps, shoe covers, and gloves are worn during procedures and changed in between patients. Hand washing is encouraged and occurs frequently. Despite this, healthcare practitioners are unfortunately still sometimes vehicles of deadly pathogen transmission, much like in the 1800s. Within the past decade, studies of nosocomial infections have uncovered antibiotic-resistant MRSA lurking in the home of hospital nurses, even after medical intervention (Neely & Sittig, 2002). More recently, the introduction of bedside computers in an Ohio hospital’s burn unit was directly linked to increased bacterial infections in burn patients (Neely, Maley, & Warden, 1999).
The Impact of Tablets & Other High Touch Devices in Hospitals
A steadily increasing number of hospitals are utilizing tablet computers not only for “chartless” patient documenting software but to streamline the exchange of information with patients including patient check-in, patient education, informed consent, and patient satisfaction surveys. This means that tablets are now roaming high-touch surfaces potentially facilitating the transfer of pathogens from room to room potentially adding a new vehicle for hospital-borne pathogen transmission.
These facts suggest that in our newly electronic approach to medicine, preventing hospital-acquired infections and keeping patients healthy requires an additional line of attack. Tablet disinfection systems like ReadyDock answer the problem with the same simplicity as Semmelweis’ hand washing in the 1860s. Chemical-free tablet disinfecting stations, utilizing germicidal UV light, can eradicate pathogens lingering on a tablet’s surface from a gloved hand or germ-ridden surface, providing hospitals and clinics another line of defense in the prevention of HAIs in the technological age of healthcare.
About the Author
Dana Carter, PhD is an academically trained, experimental neuroscientist. Currently, Dana is a science writer who focuses on different aspects of psychology, physiology, and overall health and wellness. Prior to her current role, she spent a combined seven years researching the genetic components of mental illnesses, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on fetal brain development. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience and her B.Sc. in Psychology from Texas A&M University. She enjoys traveling, writing, and promoting learning about healthy, active minds and lifestyles.
Hanninen, O. The prophet of bacteriology: Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). (2008, October 13).
Klevens, R. M., Edwards, J. R., Richards, C. L., Horan, T. C., Gaynes, R. P., Pollock, D. A., & Cardo, D. M. (2007). Estimating Health Care-Associated Infections and Deaths in U.S. Hospitals, 2002. Public Health Reports, 122(2), 160–166.
Martin, E., & McFerran, T. (2008). A Dictionary of Nursing. Oxford University Press.
Neely, A. N., Maley, M. P., & Warden, G. D. (1999). Computer Keyboards as Reservoirs for Acinetobacter baumannii in a Burn Hospital. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 29(5), 1358–1359. doi:10.1086/313463
Neely, A. N., & Sittig, D. F. (2002). Basic Microbiologic and Infection Control Information to Reduce the Potential Transmission of Pathogens to Patients via Computer Hardware. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA, 9(5), 500–508. doi:10.1197/jamia.M1082