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How Effective are Infection Preventionists?

How Effective are Infection Preventionists?

Abstract of Doctor Writing on Clipboard with Dramatic Lighting.

Are cumbersome reporting requirements getting in the way of the prevention of healthcare associated infections? One study says maybe. Reporting of data regarding safety measures and infection control is done on both the state and federal level. It is the federal standards that were recently studied by infection preventionists (IP) at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, New Jersey. Their conclusion is that many professionals spend more time adhering to reporting mandates than they do actually preventing infections.

What is an Infection Preventionist?

An infection preventionist is a medical professional, usually a nurse, who monitors the staff habits to ensure they follow guidelines to prevent infections, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.  This includes:

  • Monitoring catheter procedures
  • Setting hand hygiene policies and ensuring they are adhered to
  • Making sure staff takes precautions such as wearing gloves and gowns when appropriate
  • Partnering with housekeeping and maintenance to make sure the environment is safe

As part of their job, infection preventionists submit the reports required by law to the various agencies, including the one necessary to continue receiving Medicaid and Medicare Payments.

The Study

The IPs at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital analyzed the time it takes to review lab data and fill out the reports regarding:

  • Bloodstream infections
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Surgical site infections
  • MRSA infections
  • Clostridium difficile infections

These studies go directly to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network and are a requirement in order to receive Medicare payments. The goal was to determine if this reporting interferes with their actual monitoring of the staff for infection control compliance.

As part of the study, they calculated the number of lab reports received in four separate months at the 355-bed acute care facility. At this one facility, the two IPs spend an average of 118,000 hours a month just reading and filling out reports. For a five-day work week, that totals five hours a day just doing paperwork for this federal agency. The calculation does not take into account any reports required by other federal agencies or by state and local healthcare departments.

The conclusion was the burden of reporting may be greater than the value given the current staffing policies. The study author did state that the reports were important for exposing problem areas and driving improvements. The extensive reporting, however, is clearly undermining the ability of IPs by taking them off the floor where they can monitor the staff’s adherence to infection control policies and manage their other duties.

What is the answer to the problem? The study author feels that more staff is needed to do the job right. The role of an IP is more than just sending reports. They educate the public and the staff about controlling infectious disease and antibiotic resistance. They share data with other hospitals, develop infection control plans and environmental designs all while ensuring compliance standards are met by all.

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