From facility construction to wearing PPE, ways to protect against infection

According to the CDC, one out of every 20 patients will develop a Healthcare-Associated Infection (HAI). Annually, these infections specifically are contracted by 1.7 million patients and cause 99,000 deaths. There are financial burdens as well, with an estimated $35.7 to $45 billion in expenses for these infections.

This is a problem everybody in the healthcare industry needs to be aware of. Whether you’re a patient, provider, nurse, physician, janitor, or construction and design-build, understanding HAIs, and how to prevent them is essential to reducing their incredibly adverse effects.

How Infections Spread

With powers like invisibility, speed, and a proper environment, HAIs can be tough to defeat. But knowing their stages of spreading can help provide opportunities to stop them in their tracks.

The spreading of infections can start with an agent, like a bacteria, virus, etc., that is developed inside of a reservoir, such as another person, piece of equipment, or even water.

The agent leaves the reservoir through a portal of exit, and the way the transmission functions depends on the type of infection. Contact with the skin, particular bodily fluids/matters, or even inhalation can be examples of transfer processes for HAIs. Make sure you understand the specific characteristics of each of these infections to be prepared for preventing or dealing with any of them exclusively.

The agent finds a portal of entry for its next susceptible host, and the cycle begins again.

The most common ways to break this chain of infection include:

  • The reservoir’s environment is changed in a way that it can no longer support the infectious agent, eliminating or inactivating it.
  • The portal of exit is highly monitored with standard precautions (in further detail below).
  • Transmission is prevented entirely with standard precautions.
  • The portal of entry is protected by safe care in that area.
  • Recognizing and identifying high-risk patients and reducing their susceptibility to HAIs.

Design and Construction Planning to Prevent Infection

Standard precautions such as hand hygiene, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), injection safety, proper environmental cleaning, injection safety, and respiratory hygiene are common precautions that exist in healthcare facilities as guidelines to break the chain of infection. So, how do facility planning, design, and construction play a role in proactively reducing infections in healthcare facilities? The often-overlooked fact is that the physical (built) environment of a healthcare facility, such as hospitals can be directly linked to overall human health.

Healthcare organizations and the construction companies who are building the facility have an obligation to patients, visitors and staff to ensure the facility is designed to be open, accessible and a safe environment for the public with proper controls in place to reduce the spread of infection. When designing a healthcare building, it’s imperative to make a decision based on the following factors besides cost.

  1. Facilities and systems are designed around handling hazardous materials and waste
  2. The facility and environment are secure and safe
  3. Proper ventilation to ensure infection doesn’t spread
  4. Construction of emergency areas for appropriate management of these situations
  5. Built to provide fire safety protection
  6. Strength of the construction material
  7. If an existing building where renovations are being considered, the overall health of the facility should be accessed
  8. Proper environmental protection
  9. Energy savings
  10. Durability for the building
  11. Utilization rate to ensure the building is design to accommodate the population being served
  12. Built-in flexibility to expand or redesign based on population or healthcare demand
  13. Infection control location to isolate the issue

Healthcare facilities are complex and need to be used for a vast array of services and procedures. As a visitor to a hospital, we often do not think of all of the specialized areas of a hospital or clinics like high use areas, circulation areas, wards, specialized theaters, and hazardous material areas. Choosing the proper materials and finishes for these areas is critical to the overall planning. All of this can pose a challenge during the planning phase for a new building or renovation as planning needs to ensure the facility can solve for new and emerging infectious diseases.

Overcoming Barriers and Working Towards a Better Future

Infection control within a healthcare facility is critical. It is the little things that matter the most, but unfortunately, compliance with these standard precautions.  Many barriers can stand in the way; however, if we all act as good stewards of infection prevention with these facilities, we can take our part in the future of our healthcare facilities.

Devoting energy into making sure no steps are missed in the precautions against healthcare-associated infections should be a top priority for every organization in the industry.