With an increasingly global economy and travel infrastructure making it easier than ever for people to travel near and far comes a growing risk for the spread of disease across regions, countries and even continents. In the past two decades, viruses such as SARS-CoV (commonly known as SARS), Ebola, H5N1 (“bird flu”), H1N1 (“swine flu”) and the coronavirus known as COVID-19 have demonstrated just how quickly epidemics can become pandemics if they aren’t contained.
Scientists have learned valuable insights from each of these multiple-country-spreading outbreaks, providing healthcare systems with guidelines and discussion-starters for addressing future epidemics turned pandemic events. With the right planning and systems in place, hospitals can detect viral infections early, isolate cases and prevent the spread of infection. Here are five ways to protect your patients, staff and entire hospital system in the midst of an epidemic or pandemic:
1. All Eyes on the ED
For many, symptoms like coughing, fever and sore throat mean a trip to the emergency department, making it a prime entry point for viral infections. Hospitals need to place a major focus on the ED when developing and revisiting infection control protocols. When you know viral infections will be at an all-time high, such as the peak of flu season, patients across the hospital could be at risk—and taking immediate action at one of the hospital’s biggest points of entry could be the difference between catching and isolating an infection and it spreading to patients, staff and visitors. Consider implementing special processes that separate patients based on the reason they came to the ED and their self-described symptoms to mitigate the risk of spreading germs among patients as they wait to be seen by a doctor.
Additionally, during an outbreak there is an increase in converting standard patient rooms to isolation rooms and the need to monitor air flow quickly becomes crucial to containment. The OneVue Sense Differential Air Pressure Monitor allows those in the field to be alerted to preset pressure threshold alarms when control of airborne contaminants are of the utmost concern.
2. Effectively Communicate Isolation Protocols Internally
Unless immediately isolated, infected patients could have a large amount of human contact with staff, other patients and visitors, increasing the touchpoints for the virus to spread. Empowering ED reception staff, nurses and others to immediately recognize the potential symptoms of a virus, then separating those potentially infected patients, is key to mitigating the spread of disease. Consider incorporating OneVue Notify InfoBoards to communicate instructions for preparedness and potential symptoms to be on the lookout for in patients coming into the ED.
3. Timely and Proactive Notifications Can Help Detect and Isolate Infected Patients
Along with training staff to distance potentially infected patients, hospitals can use digital message boards, such as OneVue Notify InfoBoards, to direct incoming patients to certain areas based on their symptoms or recent travel, like Vanderbilt University Medical Center did in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Fully integrated message boards can also be leveraged for critical alerts to staff using coded messages versus unintentionally alerting patients to a potential outbreak over a loudspeaker.
Another consideration is guaranteeing everyone is operating off the same time by using OneVue Sync. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published results from a patient drill which revealed that the median time from entry to masking is 90 seconds and the median time from entry to isolation is 8.5 minutes. Once symptoms are identified, time is of the essence to isolate an infected patient and prevent the spread of the infection. Synching time can help staff cut back on the time an infected patient is at risk for infecting others.
4. Critical Sanitation Procedures
Formalize standards for staff handwashing, protective gear (i.e., masks and disposable gowns) and equipment sanitization at every patient touchpoint. Additionally, ensure medical staff are up to date on the most recent procedures and can quickly and easily implement protocols when they suspect or confirm a patient has contracted a highly contagious infection.
5. Elevate Temperature and Humidity Control
Lower humidity can increase the spread of viruses. In addition, the storage and handling of vaccinations are paramount and under strict regulation by the CDC, making real-time environmental monitoring critical. OneVue Sense Temperature and Temperature and Humidity Sensors help keep rooms and storage units at safe levels—and can be customized to alert staff immediately if they deviate from the acceptable range. In addition, using these sensors can free up valuable medical staff time and allow them to spend more time with patients, detecting symptoms, isolating those infected and ultimately mitigating the spread of the epidemic.
We live in a global world, and the rapid spread of infectious disease is a reality that healthcare professionals across the country face. Hospitals are under heightened scrutiny as patients move in and out of EDs with numerous touchpoints to other patients, but with regular outbreak practice scenarios and the appropriate, integrated technology, hospitals can put their best foot forward in breaking the infection cycle.
For additional information about how you can implement monitoring products to protect your hospital from a possible outbreak, visit http://www.primexinc.com/healthcare.