Cross-contamination; are single-use devices the solution?
Cross-contamination is a real and dangerous problem in the healthcare field, especially in high-traffic areas like emergency departments. Studies have indicated a variety of concerns about, and solutions for, cross-contamination issues in healthcare settings. Some of the most common high-risk areas are medical surfaces and devices which come in contact with broken skin, soft tissue or mucous membranes, along with semi-critical medical devices which come in contact with more than one patient in a given time period.
Different bacteria and viruses pose threats of varying time periods. For example, MRSA, a common concern especially in emergency room settings, can linger from seven days to seven months on dry hospital surfaces, while influenza can remain for only one to two days. In the past, healthcare professionals would rely heavily on antibiotics, in addition to preventative measures, to stave off the risk of spreading infections. The use of antibiotics is no longer a preferred, viable method, because many strains of infection have developed a strong resistance to them. This makes preventative measures more important than ever in combating the spread of infection.
All of these factors combined make cross-contamination a considerable danger for healthcare professionals and patients. Fortunately, there are many safe, proven methods to combat the danger of cross-contamination and keep the spread of infection to a minimum.
- It starts with sanitation. Critical medical instruments that enter soft tissue or the vascular system, like surgical devices and catheters, should be purchased sterile, or sterilized in a central location in the facility.
- Semi-critical medical devices, such as respiratory therapy or anesthesia equipment, that come in contact with broken skin or mucous membranes should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using a powerful disinfectant between use on different patients.
- Noncritical devices like stethoscopes, ultrasound equipment and blood pressure equipment demonstrate far less risk for cross-contamination, when used properly. Still, it is best to clean and disinfect them regularly to avoid any unnecessary risk.
- All surfaces in emergency rooms and urgent care centers that come in contact with patients should also be cleaned and disinfected regularly, especially if they come in contact with broken skin, soft-tissue or mucous membranes.
In addition to regular cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization when necessary, there are other tools available which dramatically reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Single-use medical products have become a popular choice in all healthcare settings, thanks to the many safety benefits that they provide.
- Single-use devices come clean and ready to use, eliminating excess time spent cleaning and disinfecting multiple-use items of the same type.
- Since each single-use device is designed to be disposed of after each use, the risk of cross-contamination is virtually eliminated with the implementation of single-use products.
- In addition to preventing cross-contamination, single-use devices can often be a more cost effective choice. They can easily be added to every exam room and require no employee-hours for cleaning or reprocessing. In addition, when patient recovery is delayed due cross-contamination the facility is saddled with longer patient stays and additional treatments. Often times the cost of this additional care is non-reimbursable. Single-use devices help prevent these added costs.
With proper sanitation, hygiene, sterilization and the widespread implementation of single-use medical devices, facilities can mitigate the risk of cross-contamination. For patients, healthcare professionals, and healthcare facilities this is a win-win proposition.