Reduce hospital-acquired infections with patient involvement
Healthcare facilities can be a breeding ground for dangerous infections and illnesses. Globe and Mail health reporter Andre Picard writes that 250,000 Canadians become sick while in care each year, and between 8,000 and 12,000 die as a result.Healthcare facilities are very aware of this problem and are actively working to change it. While protocols are in place to reduce these risks, the benefits of involving and empowering patients in their role in infection prevention and control may further the efforts. Here’s how:

Partnering with patients
Reducing the risk of healthcare-associated infections involves a partnership between healthcare providers and patients. Here are some simple things patients can do to help lower their risk of illness and infection while visiting the doctor or staying in a hospital or nursing home:

  • Education is key: Let patients know what their care should look like so they know when prevention protocol isn’t meeting quality standards. Provide a folder that includes handouts detailing what they can expect from their healthcare provider, and outline the patient’s role in reducing the risk of infection. Include this folder in a welcome basket complete with hand sanitizer, tissue, wet wipes and a toothbrush cap to help stop the spread of germs.
  • Pre-admission precautions: If a patient is anticipating surgery, they can make modifications ahead of time to reduce their risk of a hospital-acquired infection. Lifestyle changes like smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling diabetes can greatly reduce the chance of infection. Talk to patients ahead of time and help them with their goals by providing support and literature on quitting smoking, weight management and managing diabetes, when appropriate.
  • Keeping hands clean: Proper hand washing can be one of the easiest things we do to stop the spread of germs. Health Canada recommends that hands be washed with soap for a minimum of 15 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective at removing bacteria. Post proper hand-washing protocol on posters and display by sinks, in waiting areas and in restrooms.
  • Remind patients it’s OK to ask: Encourage patients to remind their healthcare providers and visitors to wash their hands upon entering the room. Provide staff with a button they can pin on their scrubs that reads “Clean Hands are Healthy Hands,” as a visual hand-washing reminder for both staff and patients.
  • Keep ill visitors at bay: Tell your patients to ask friends and family members that aren’t feeling well to hold off on visiting. Picking up a cold or virus while in the hospital can lower immunity and leave patients more susceptible to further illness.
  • Make your patients feel comfortable communicating: An open dialogue between patient and healthcare provider is a must when partnering together to prevent infection. Many patients are apprehensive about asking questions or speaking up about concerns in order to avoid appearing difficult. Encourage your patients to voice their comments by routinely asking them if they have questions or concerns. And when they do speak up, thank them for their feedback. If a patient is unable to communicate due to illness or injury, promote the use of an advocate that can speak on their behalf.

Remember, it takes a team approach to prevent and lower the risks of healthcare-acquired infections. Patients who understand their role and actively participate in prevention measures will be less likely to pick up an infection or illness, improving their outcome.

Picard, Andre. “Concerns over treatment of infections.The Globe and Mail. N.p., 27 April 2013. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct. 2013.

It’s Your Health: The Benefits of Hand Washing.” Health Canada. 14 March 2012. Web. Retrieved 27 Oct. 2013.

MacDonald, Ilene. “Patient education may be key to reducing hospital-acquired infections.FierceHealthcare. N.p., 19 Aug. 2013. Web. Retrieved 18 Oct. 2013.

Boyd, Tara. “Six Steps to Educating Patients About Infection Control.” Infection Control Today. N.p., 08 April 2013. Web. Retrieved 18 Oct. 2013.

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