Infection Control and Surfaces

Welcome to our new Healthcare Surface Blog! It is always hard to know where to begin blogging, especially when there is so much to talk about!  So I have decided to begin with some basics for you to consider.

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Surface Contamination

The selection of healthcare surfaces is critical when addressing the issue of infection control. Designers can no longer look at this as just a design feature and manufacturers need to step up to the plate with cleaning and maintenance recommendations that are appropriate and effective in a healthcare environment.

Research has shown that 20-40% of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) have been attributed to cross infection via hands or healthcare personnel who have become contaminated from direct contact with patients or indirectly by touching contaminated surfaces. It is often hard for people to understand how surfaces could actually be the issue. After all, every surface is cleanable, right? I guess in theory that is true, but we will get into this subject much deeper in the future.

Surfaces Overlooked as Culprit

So why have people completely overlooked surface characteristics and selected products based on look and cost? Perhaps it is just the lack of understanding about the role surfaces play in the spread of HAI.  Perhaps it is the lack of information about the surfaces being used. My hope is that we can begin to address this issue and together call attention to the importance of surface selection healthcare.

So let’s briefly look at the issue and understand where we need to start. Simply put, there are many surfaces installed in healthcare facilities that are unreasonably difficult to clean and keep clean. In addition, many surfaces are literally impossible to repair should they become damaged.

When considering a surface material for installation in a healthcare facility, these are some of the first questions that should be asked:

  • Where will the surface be located?  The level of care and the need for constant cleaning will be different based on the location in which the surface is placed. You have more choices for surface selection in the lobby of a hospital than in an area where there are immune-compromised patients.

  • How does the surface need to be cleaned and with what products? The products currently being used by Environmental Services may not be appropriate for (or may actually damage) a new surface being considered. The manufacturer should provide detailed cleaning instructions that are suitable for use in a healthcare environment.

  • How easy is it to clean and maintain the surface? Something as seemingly minor as the surface finish or texture can require a completely different approach to cleaning.

  • What characteristics are you looking for in a surface material? The FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities provides a list of “preferred performance characteristics of ideal products” used for healthcare surfaces.

  • How has the surface material been tested to ensure it meets the manufacturer’s claims? The manufacturer should be able to provide independent laboratory test data to support their claims.

Although we have just scratched the surface (no pun intended), you can see that the issue of selecting, cleaning, and maintaining surfaces in healthcare is complex and needs to be thought about carefully.

Over the next few weeks we will look at other areas of concern regarding the cleaning and maintaining of healthcare surfaces. We will also begin to evaluate different surface materials that are currently the standard in healthcare.