The Infection Control Committee

The Infection Control Committee

Farrah Lee, BSN, and Natalie Lind, ACE

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This article:
  • Defines the role of the Infection Control Committee.
  • Identifies the tools used to ensure patient and employee safety.
  • Lists common responsibilities of the Infection Control Committee.

For most patients and their families, the process of healthcare appears to be a simple one. Patients are admitted to the facility and a specific course of treatment and care is carried out by physicians, nurses, and technicians. Additional departments such as the pharmacy, nutrition services, etc. support that care process. What most of these clients fail to see is the larger network of support that monitors the care process and provides direction to minimize risk to the patient. Every healthcare facility uses interdisciplinary task forces such as the Safety Committee and the Infection Control Committee to minimize patient and employee risk. Although its existence may not be widely recognized by patients, the Infection Control Committee plays an integral part in the care of every patient.

Who Serves on the Infection Control Committee?
The Infection Control Committee is generally comprised of members from a variety of disciplines within the healthcare facility. Representation may include: physicians, nursing staff, infection control practitioners, quality assurance personnel, risk management personnel as well as representatives from microbiology, surgery, central sterilization, environmental services, etc. The goal of this interdisciplinary team is to bring together individuals with expertise in different areas of healthcare. By creating a diverse group, issues can be addressed from several angles, and members can pool their expertise to develop the best solutions possible.

Ordinarily, membership on the committee is ongoing, but additional staff members may be asked to provide input, perhaps in the form of ad hoc advisory, as the need arises. Membership should reflect a broad-based spectrum of the facility and its services.

What Does the Infection Control Committee Do?
The role of the Infection Control Committee is very multi-faceted. It should be involved in planning, monitoring, evaluating, updating, and educating. It sets general infection control policy and provides input into specific infection control issues. Simply stated, its function is to prevent and control nosocomial infections. That is accomplished in a variety of ways some of which include: surveillance of nosocomial infections, product evaluation, investigation of infection outbreaks and infection clusters, development of infection control procedures for all departments, staff and patient education, medical waste management, etc.

How Does the Infection Control Committee Prevent and Control Infection?
The Infection Control Committee uses several tools to ensure patient and employee safety. They include the following:

Planning: Successful prevention and control of infection requires careful planning. The Infection Control Committee is actively involved with the planning and implementation of new procedures that pose a potential infection control risk. For example, it may provide guidance for the set-up of an endoscopy lab or the implementation of a new procedure. Its role in the planning process is to examine the proposal, identify potential areas of concern, and recommend a course of action that provides the best method of infection control.

The committee also may provide input into the selection of chemicals used to manage the environment, such as detergents and disinfectants. It may also provide input into the selection of equipment used to process instruments and accessories. The multidisciplinary composition of the committee makes it an ideal place to examine new product and procedure proposals from several aspects.

Monitoring: The Infection Control Committee also monitors infectious processes within the healthcare facility. They track nosocomial infections and incidents that have the potential to cause infections. They review infection control statistics from the facility in an effort to minimize risk, identify problem areas, and implement corrective actions.

When infections do occur, the committee undertakes epidemiological investigations to determine the cause of the problem and recommends the necessary education or changes in protocols.

Evaluating: Along with monitoring specific incidents, the Infection Control Committee also looks at the bigger picture as it continually strives to improve processes within the facility. This is demonstrated by the regular review of infection control procedures for all departments. The committee may also be called upon to evaluate practices and provide input regarding products and protocols.

Updating: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that all Infection Control Committees face is keeping current. The constant advancement of medical technology introduces changes at all levels within the healthcare facility, new bacterial strains complicate and challenge older infection control practices, and new research often requires re-examination of established procedures. The Infection Control Committee's purpose is to provide guidance and leadership through these changes. This requires that all members of the team strive to keep abreast of changes within their area of expertise. By keeping current, they can assist the committee as it works to manage its facility's infection control policy.

Educating: Finally, as an integral part of its leadership, the committee must take an active role in staff education. That role may be a hands-on approach or it may be an advisory role in partnership with the facility's education department. However it functions, the committee must set direction for staff education and validation of that education.

The education process should address at least two specific areas. The first area should be that of general infection control education. This is usually accomplished through an annual education program designed for all employees. This program is designed to provide the groundwork for general infection control protocols, which create a safe environment for both patients and employees. Information such as standard bloodborne pathogen education, etc. is covered in these programs.

The second educational need that the Infection Control Committee addresses is the need for updating. In the constantly changing healthcare arena, the committee must find a way to communicate changes and updates to the entire hospital staff. This is usually done through inservices, newsletters, or published committee communications like meeting minutes. Whatever the method, the goal must be to create a smooth flow of information to all employees. Both of these educational roles should focus on creating awareness of infection control and developing the appropriate skills necessary to function effectively on the job.

Why Is the Infection Control Committee Important?
Everyone knows that infection control is the responsibility of all healthcare workers. Patients and employees are only safe from infectious processes when everyone follows good infection control techniques. The purpose of the Infection Control Committee is not to reduce the individual responsibility that each healthcare provider has, but to provide leadership for all employees throughout the facility. Through policies, procedures, and evaluation processes, the committee acts as a central clearing house for all infection control information and channels that information in a manner that will create the safest healthcare environment.

It also helps to standardize infection control procedures throughout the facility so that the same level of care is provided in all departments. This standardization helps to control and maintain the facility's environment and ensures that patients receive the same level of infection control in all areas. For example, the Infection Control Committee may take steps to ensure that the standard for instruments used in invasive procedures performed outside of the OR is the same as invasive procedures performed within the OR.

How Does the Infection Control Committee Communicate with Employees?
Along with providing or recommending formal educational opportunities, the Infection Control Committee communicates with employees through the use of procedures. The committee is responsible to maintain written infection control procedures, which should be available to all employees. The committee also provides guidance for the prevention of incidents through other established informational channels within the facility. When problems arise, the committee will provide specific direction to a department or departments that details corrective actions that are deemed necessary. The committee will meet regularly, and its meeting minutes should be available upon request.

In addition to channeling information through itself, the committee often coordinates communication between departments to facilitate the sharing of information and procedures. In this way, the committee acts as a facilitator between other departments.

The purpose of the Infection Control Committee is simple: to prevent and control infection. Achieving that goal requires the skills and input of the many healthcare disciplines that serve on the committee and the cooperation of all employees. The Infection Control Committee is designed to provide clear direction to help everyone create and maintain a safe environment.

Farrah Lee, BSN, is a nurse in the Operating Room at Meritcare Hospital (Fargo, ND). She is a graduate of the University of North Dakota College of Nursing. Natalie Lind, ACE, is the Director of the Health Systems Processing Programs at Northwest Technical College (Moorhead and East Grand Forks, Minn).

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