Infection Control Today - 05/2002: An Exciting Era for Infection Control

An Exciting Era for Infection Control

By Susan M. Slavish, BSN, MPH, CIC

Bioterrorism readiness, patient safety, interventional epidemiology ... they are all part of the ever-changing role of the infection control practitioner (ICP). A dynamic discipline since its inception in response to the Staphylococcus aureus pandemic in the 1950s, infection control has responded to the challenges presented by new diseases, emerging pathogens, new technology, changing reimbursement and regulatory standards.

As ICPs, we have learned how to conduct epidemiologic investigations and educate other healthcare providers and the public about infection-related issues. We have demonstrated the value of a quality program and worked with others to implement evidence-based practices to reduce or prevent healthcare-associated infections.

Basic infection control practices have been taken from the acute care setting into long-term care, home care, ambulatory surgery centers, the medical and dental office and beyond. We've become computer literate, developed guidelines, moved into the world of research, become politically active and established a certification process. These achievements have been the result of collaboration between ICPs, infectious disease physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Society of Healthcare Epidemiologists of America (SHEA) and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

As one of those collaborative efforts, development of a bioterrorism readiness plan was launched by APIC and CDC in 1999. No one could have predicted how important the resulting template would become in October 2001. Suddenly, ICPs nationally were inundated with questions about a disease that was unfamiliar to many, even in healthcare.

It reminded me of the mid-1980s when AIDS was the emerging infection control issue and ICPs were involved daily in educating nervous healthcare providers, apprehensive family and friends and a frightened public. The professional and the profession adapted through education and networking. It also reminded me that performing our role effectively requires awareness of current issues impacting the profession and healthcare in general and the skills to evaluate an issue and to identify and institute practices that can influence the outcome in a positive way. Once again, education and networking are keys if we are to successfully respond to current issues.

This month, APIC's annual educational conference and international meeting in Nashville provides interested healthcare professionals with the opportunity to learn about current issues facing infection control. The opportunity to network with peers and experts will also be provided. The theme of this year's conference focuses on one of the major challenges facing the healthcare community -- patient safety. It acknowledges the link between infection control and patient safety, one that has existed since the profession's beginning.

Sessions will build on the knowledge that infection prevention, surveillance and intervention have improved patient outcomes. They will also demonstrate collaborative approaches to reduce non-adverse outcomes. It is an achievable goal that has already been demonstrated by a number of healthcare organizations nationally. Presenters will also provide us with new information on practices -- including hand hygiene -- that have always been important to controlling infections.

There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to contribute to the reduction of serious medical errors. It is an exciting new era for the infection control profession and positions all of us to champion patient safety.

Susan M. Slavish, BSN, MPH, CIC, is the infection and environmental control coordinator for The Queen's Medical Center Nursing Service Department in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the immediate past-president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

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