7 Expert Infection Prevention and Control Tips for RNs
by Sarah Stasik
Infections spread, and it can seem almost impossible to control that 100 percent within a healthcare environment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 5 percent of all patients hospitalized for any treatment or reason will contract an infection while in the hospital.
The risk of a healthcare-related infection goes up in certain environments and for certain patients, such as the immuno-compromised. But infection control in nursing can make a big difference for your patients and you — nurses are certainly not immune to every infection that might be lurking on the job.
7 Expert Tips for Infection Control for Nurses
RNs, infection control experts and tech company owners all weigh in with various tips and solutions for managing infections in a healthcare environment. Check out what they have to say below.
1. Know that infection control goes both ways
Donna Matthezing has been a nurse for 29 years and points out that nurses must be realistic about the potential for infections. "We are not any different than anyone else in the hospital," she says. "We can get life-altering infections from our patients. The number one prevention is to always keep in the back of your mind that not only could we spread some disease or bug, but we could get it ourselves."
But it's a two-way road, she notes. "Practice safety precautions for you and your patients. Reverse isolation is so that I don't give something to an immune compromised patient."
Matthezing also advises nurses to stay home when they're ill themselves to keep infections out of the healthcare environment when possible.
2. Be diligent with basics, such as hand washing
Matthezing notes that nurses are among the gatekeepers for infections spreading, and they must be diligent about washing hands and using sanitizers frequently.
Hand hygiene is obviously something any nurse is going to know about, and you may not think you need this advice. But, the CDC notes that the average healthcare professional washes their hands only about 50 percent of the time when they should.
Matthezing points out that doctors are often less diligent than RNs about washing their hands, but that doesn't leave nurses off the hook altogether. Read up on the CDC's Clean Hands Count campaign to learn more about whether you're washing your hands enough as a nurse.
3. Use available technology to help with infection prevention
Kevin Neal of P3iD points out that technology, AI and machine learning are all playing a role in infection control. "Today, nurses can use technology to help improve their hand hygiene practices, report on infection prevention activity and monitor ultra violet disinfecting activity to help identify which disinfection practices, and technology helps reduce reported HAI's within US hospitals."
Technology is a growing player throughout the medical field, and it can be scary to embrace some of these changes. But when it comes to infection control for nurses, computers can help bring that 5 percent infection rate down closer to zero — something human-only processes are finding difficult to do.
4. Be a positive part of the team for infection control in nursing
Healthcare is a human-driven field, though, so people can't rely completely on technology to get the infection prevention job done. Stefan Torres, BSN, RN and CEN with the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA, says nurses have to work as a team to ensure proper infection control. He relates how his department gets the job done:
"Each month in our department, we have one RN assume the role of hand hygiene watch. They're responsible to document 20 occurrences of either appropriate hand hygiene, or missed opportunities. We omit the names but include the person's role: MD, RT, Housekeeping, etc; the situation: prior to patient care, before/after hands-on patient care, equipment usage, etc; the type of hand hygiene used; and whether we gave kudos, recommendations, or teaching. We've found this to be extremely helpful as a reminder to perform good hand hygiene, remember why we do it, and create a more supportive environment."
Torres says building good rapport with colleagues is essential to success at infection control as a team.
He suggests giving appropriate constructive criticism and never sounding bullheaded or disciplinary when communicating the need for infection prevention within a team environment.
5. Make sure everything is cleaned between patients
Torres also notes that proper cleaning — and not just of hands — plays a critical role in infection control.
"When patient stations or bays are cleaned by healthcare staff to prepare for the next patient, we're typically on-top of cleaning or replacing patient contact items like beds, linens, blood pressure cuffs, and cardiac monitor leads," Torres says.
"However, often times we neglect some of the less noticeable equipment we come into contact with as providers. Think: the knob on the oxygen flow meter, the power switch to the suction or even the handles of the workstation on wheels. These are breeding grounds for bacteria and should be cleaned along with the more obvious items while we're at it!"
6. Wear gloves, but still wash your hands
Safety + Health Magazine reminds nurses to wear gloves whenever contact with bodily fluids is a possibility. But, remember that gloves are not a substitute for washing your hands.
7. Stay educated about infection control best practices
Stay educated about best practices to keep your patients safe. While it's unlikely recommendations on hand washing are going to change any time soon, the medical field evolves at a constant and rapid pace. Nurses who don't stay in the know can't appropriately protect themselves or their patients.
Infection control is a complex topic, but simple day-to-day actions and teamwork can make a huge difference.
As an RN, keep up with these requirements and never let your busy schedule or hectic day get in the way of washing your hands, cleaning tools or equipment appropriately or working with the rest of the team to ensure a properly sanitized and safe environment.