3 ways hospitals are boosting hygiene practices to fight superbugs

Hospitals and health systems across the nation are setting stronger hygiene standards to help curb healthcare-associated infections, focusing on the hospital fixtures most vulnerable to contamination, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Although hospitals often implement cleaning systems and efforts to get physicians to clean their hands more thoroughly, certain hospital fixtures are especially susceptible to contamination, such as bed railings, wheelchairs, IV pumps and stethoscopes.

"We have the knowledge to prevent infections. What has been lacking is the will," said Betsy McCaughey, a patient advocate and founder of Reduce Infection Deaths, which focuses on factors leaving hospitals vulnerable to superbugs. "It is these lapses in hygiene that allow the bacteria to whiz around the hospital, sickening patient after patient."

Here are three ways hospitals are boosting hygiene practices:

1. Stamford (Conn.) Health. The health system, which had about 15,043 inpatient discharges in 2017, says it has prioritized "environmental hygiene." Michael Parry, MD, director of infectious diseases, sees numerous places germs can gather: "There are telephones, there are call buttons, there are IV poles, there are stethoscopes."

But one of the biggest infection control concerns Stamford Hospital addressed was computer keyboards. The 305-bed, nonprofit facility now has a computer in every patient room for staff to access records so "you aren't taking the computer from room to room" and spreading germs, Dr. Parry said.

2. Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.). The 12-hospital health system is using copper to fight superbugs after exploring its germ-fighting capabilities. Sentara invested in copper surfaces for countertops, bed rails, bed tables and other furniture. It also began using copper-infused linens, including patient gowns, bed sheets, towels and washcloths.

In a study that compared a new hospital building outfitted with copper and an unchanged older facility, researchers found significant reductions in superbugs in the new building, said Sentara President and CEO Howard Kern. Mr. Kern said he plans to refit other Sentara hospitals with copper.

3. UCLA Health (Los Angeles). Concerned about germs that could be spread by physicians, Mark Sklansky, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, attempted to turn two neonatal intensive care units into "handshake-free zones" in 2015.

Although the campaign, which was part of a formal study, didn't catch on, the NICUs still have signs showing a crossed-out handshake. "Hospitals aren't ready to recommend handshake-free zones," Dr. Sklansky said.

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