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Protect Yourself From Hospital-Acquired Infections


Doctors and hospital staff diligently work to ensure that every patient experiences a safe and positive hospital stay. But they also have extremely busy schedules and endless to-do lists, meaning patients need to take a more collaborative, active role in their hospital care.


Poor hand hygiene and catheters are two of the most common causes of hospital-acquired infections. Patients can prevent these infections by knowing the causes and monitoring them. Nearly 2 million people will acquire an infection while hospitalized in 2010, and nearly 100,000 will die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Speaking up for yourself and taking ownership of your own health care can help you from becoming a statistic.


Hand Hygiene

It’s your right to remind a health care provider to sanitize his or her hands before touching you or your surroundings while you’re in the hospital. This applies not only to doctors, nurses, and nursing assistants but also to technicians, food service and cleaning staffs, visitors, and families.


Multiple studies have found hand hygiene is sorely lacking in hospitals, with best practices being followed as little as 20 to 30 percent of the time in some cases. Speak Up, a program developed by the Joint Commission, the largest healthcare accrediting body in the United States, encourages patients and their families to clean their own hands and to request that their healthcare providers do the same. Hospitals supply hand sanitizer and keep it at the bedside for others to use.


Also, patients should be aware if surfaces are disinfected regularly. Bedrails and table surfaces need disinfection, as well as telephones, remote controls, call buttons, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and portable shared devices such as blood glucose meters and hair clippers. If a hospital isn’t providing this level of disinfection, ask your nurse or doctor about it.


Catheter-Associated Infections

While most hope they’ll never need a urinary catheter, the reality of hospitalization is that one in four patients will need it at some point during their stay. Catheters can lead to the most frequent type of hospital-acquired infection, a urinary tract infection (UTI). In fact, 40 percent of all hospital-acquired infections are catheter-associated UTIs.


Maintaining the sterility of the catheter and application kit minimizes infections. Some catheterization kits are packed in a single layer with each item — gloves, antiseptic swabs, drapes, and so forth — available in the order they’ll be needed. This helps the clinician follow the best practices for avoiding infections, but you, the patient, can also do your part.


In addition to reminding the nurse about hand hygiene, you can continue to ask “Why do I need this catheter, and when is it going to be removed?” Studies show that if the reasons for the catheter and its “remove by” date are noted on a patient’s chart before the catheter is placed, they don’t stay in as long because it reminds the doctor to order its removal. Shortening the time a catheter remains in place reduces the risk of a UTI.


“Healthcare treatment today is more active with patient participation,” says Lorri Downs, vice president of Infection Control for Medline Industries, Inc. “Gone are the days when a doctor would pronounce a diagnosis and treatment, the nearby nurse would nod in agreement, and the patient would subserviently acquiesce to the doctor’s orders.”


Today, many healthcare workers can be involved in a patient’s treatment, making clear communication that much more important. The doctor may now really be a team of doctors, nurses, specialists, and assistant care providers that monitor the patient’s care.


In an environment such as this, the patient must exercise greater control over his or her own treatment and be proactive in order to prevent hospital-acquired infections and obtain proper treatment. In the future, the patient may be expected to play an even larger role. The question for most of us will be: “How do I make myself the best patient and the best advocate to help ensure the best outcome from my treatment?”   ARA CONTENT




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