Evaluating technology used in the healthcare environment is critical to advancing the use of electronic tools and ultimately improving patient care and safety. One such tool that has become prevalent in U.S. healthcare systems is the sensor-regulated faucet. Recent conflicting study results have illuminated the need for further assessment to determine when it is appropriate to use such faucets in healthcare facilities. A recent abstract from the Johns Hopkins Health System discussing research on their local experience led to much media coverage of electronic faucet use and instigated a review of the state of the art by professional organizations.
Under the leadership of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), and Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI), a stakeholders coalition has been formed with the goals of (1) increasing overall knowledge of biofilm in clinical settings; (2) gaining clinical and technical support to help assess infection control issues associated with manual and electronic faucets; and (3) gathering data on the use of faucets, particularly sensor-regulated faucets, in the healthcare environment. To date the stakeholders group has:
1. Formed a coalition, including a representative from the American Society for Plumbing Engineers (ASPE), under the leadership of FGIs Health Guidelines Revision Committee to review the potential impact of infection control concerns about sensor-regulated faucets on handwashing station requirements in the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities.
2. Formed a task force, including coalition members, to develop a pilot questionnaire on the use of sensor-regulated faucets in clinical settings.
3. Secured support from Kaiser Permanente and the University of California-Irvine to test the survey tool before ASHE, APIC and SHEA release it to survey their members.
4. Participated in the ASPE industry coalition meeting on June 7, 2011, to garner advice and support from plumbing design, manufacturing, code development and biofilm experts on how to approach the claims in the Hopkins study.
The results of the sensor-regulated faucet survey will:
1. Identify preferred design features for electronic and manual taps for hand-washing sinks that support good function (in terms of water flow, temperature control, ease of use, fewest complaints from users, etc.).
2. Provide a needs assessment from the clinician/user viewpoint of the type of hands-free or wrist blade system needed in particular locations.
3. Suggest evaluation criteria to be used in selecting plumbing fixtures. Stakeholders will be asked to assist in specifying faucet design features based on findings showing which models are associated with good function.
4. Provide information for use in developing language for future editions of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities.
5. Provide information that may help manufacturers and ASPE members design faucets and sinks that specifically address healthcare needs.
Researchers and health systems who publish data on electronic faucets are encouraged to validate their findings and work with professional organizations such as APIC, ASHE, SHEA, ASPE and others to proactively research the overall effect this issue may have on patient populations as well as on the design of plumbing fixtures and systems and the design of clinical environments.