In an age of constant connectivity, healthcare professionals are rarely without touchscreen devices. From tablets in hallway kiosks to x-ray screens to doctors’ and nurses’ own smartphones, such surfaces abound in healthcare settings.
Proliferation of this technology inadvertently increases the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria and spread of infection. Our fingertips are home to a plethora of bacteria, and constant contact with touchscreens leaves phones, tablets, and other devices coated with thriving bacteria cultures that put all of us at risk if not cleaned properly.
But while touchscreens are present in healthcare facilities now more than ever, protocols for properly addressing the risks they invite haven’t quite caught up.
On any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If not cleaned properly, some bacteria can survive for months on the surface of a dry touchscreen device, according to a 2016 Environmental Health Review study.
And the risk of contamination is amplified by the fact that 86 percent of clinicians and 76 percent of nurses use smartphones while at work, according to Mobile Trends Report and a study published in JMIR Publications, respectively.
Harmful strains, such as MRSA, Staphyloccus and Streptococcus spp can linger on devices and put patients at risk of infection. Such hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) also cost hospitals billions of dollars in reduced reimbursements and preventable expenditures every year, according to the CDC.
The prevalence of these devices emphasizes the importance of proper cleaning, which is one of the most effective means, aside from hand hygiene, of minimizing or eliminating risks.
Touchscreens are the future of healthcare facility technology, and so professionals should reconsider their approach to cleaning in a digital age. To ward off risk, traditional precautionary measures like required hand washing won’t go far enough to handle this new frontier of infection control.
To minimize the spread of infections, communication and preparedness is key. Healthcare professionals should implement the following steps into their infection prevention protocol to ensure screens are being consistently and properly cleaned:
- Educate staff to the issue. While the 24-7 connectivity of doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff seldom leaves them without their personal electronic devices, many may be unaware of just how easily the transfer of bacteria-laden phones or tablets can put all of us at risk. Clear and consistent education about these risks will keep the reality top of mind.
- Provide proper tools with which staff can take action. Place appropriate, compatible cleaning wipes, such as PDI’s Easy Screen Cleaning Wipe, in easily accessible, high-traffic areas where doctors and nurses are encouraged to clean their screens. This effortless access, combined with the visual reminder, will help keep the actionable issue squarely in focus.
- Empower your team with knowledge of best practices for tackling screen hygiene. Products kill bugs, but people prevent infections. It’s not enough to have the right cleaning solutions in the room if frequent screen users aren’t taking ownership of their important role each and every day.
- Address audiences beyond healthcare professionals. Specifically, encourage hospital visitors to clean their personal devices to help prevent transition of infection to loved ones.
With adequate knowledge, preparedness, clear communication, and aggressive, appropriate cleaning measures, healthcare facilities can do a great deal to minimize the risks of HAIs in areas of constant interaction with touchscreen devices.
With this knowledge comes the empowerment — and sense of responsibility — to wipe their screens clean and take a stand against potentially dangerous bacteria.
Melanie Waddell is the director of marketing at PDI Healthcare. She has been with the organization since 2011.