5 Overlooked High-Touch Hospital Surfaces

July 28, 2020

With inadequate disinfection practices, healthcare workers are much more likely to acquire pathogens on their hands after touching these surfaces, potentially passing them on to patients.

(Content sponsored by PDI Healthcare.)

If you’ve worked in healthcare for any amount of time, you’re probably familiar with the term “high-touch” surfaces. These are surfaces that are usually found in the patient room or patient care area, such as light switches, bedrails, and overbed tables. Disinfection of these surfaces is a critical part of infection prevention efforts because they are more likely to be contaminated with potential pathogens. With inadequate disinfection practices, healthcare workers are much more likely to acquire pathogens on their hands after touching these surfaces, potentially passing them on to patients.1 However, there are many surfaces and areas that are frequently touched yet often overlooked.

1. Break room essentials: Healthcare workers must work extremely hard and therefore deserve a nice, clean space to relax in during their breaks. Unfortunately, the reality is that these spaces tend to be dirty, sticky, and sometimes smelly depending when the fridge was last cleared out. When was the last time the coffee maker or microwave were cleaned? What about staff lockers? All of these break room surfaces are frequently used but are almost never considered for daily cleaning. These areas and machines should be disinfected with an EPA-registered healthcare grade disinfectant that is also be considered food safe. We owe it to healthcare workers to make sure that they aren’t transmitting pathogens while taking a break.

2. Clipboards and paper charts: While the vast majority of healthcare documentation has digitized in the last decade, the need for paper hasn’t fully gone away. In fact, it’s often the first port of call for incoming patients. Who cleans all of those clipboards and charts? These are being frequently touched by a rotation of people throughout the day, which means they should be treated like any other “high-touch” surface. Your facility should implement a policy that defines who is responsible for cleaning clipboards and charts and what EPA-registered disinfectants can be used without degrading the plastics or acrylics.

3. Pneumatic tube system: These systems are fantastic for saving time and improving healthcare efficiencies as they rapidly send lab samples, paperwork and medications throughout the hospital. Unfortunately, unintended spills and dirty hands can cause these systems to accumulate and traffic pathogens within the facility if they’re not disinfected frequently. The carrier tubes should be disinfected in between uses and the entire tube system should be cleaned on a scheduled basis to ensure that only the intended items (and not pesky pathogens) are being delivered.

4. Medication dispensing machines: One of the workhorses of patient care are the machines used by healthcare workers to safely store and dispense patient medications. They may be touched hundreds of times per day by healthcare workers, who may or may not have cleaned their hands prior to use. By comparison, they are often cleaned just once in that same time frame. To prevent pathogens from being dispensed alongside patient medications, hospitals should ensure that the machines are cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals throughout the day.

5.The ubiquitous smartphone: Last, but certainly not least, are personal cell phones. Some 86% of clinicians now use their phone during work hours—but how often are they cleaning them?2 Even more concerning, a recent study found that over 90% of healthcare worker phones tested positive for pathogens such as MRSA and other multidrug resistant bacteria.3 Cell phones should be cleaned frequently, especially if they are being used at work. The challenge is finding products that are approved by the manufacturer. To protect phones and their warranty, healthcare workers should use an approved cleaner, such as a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe. Proper cleaning of personal cell phones will help prevent the (real-life) transmission of viruses and germs.

Caitlin Stowe, MPH, CPH, CPHQ, CIC, VA-BC is a Clinical Affairs Research Manager at PDI Healthcare. She has over 10 years of experience in infection prevention. She has previously served as an infection prevention specialist at several hospitals around the United States and as a clinical science liaison at PDI.

References:

1. Kundrapu S, Sunkesula V, Jury LA, Sitzlar BM, Donskey CJ. Daily disinfection of high-touch surfaces in isolation rooms to reduce contamination of healthcare workers’ hands. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2012;33(10):1039-1042. doi:10.1086/667730

2. “Mobile Trends Report.” Epocrates, 2014.

3. Morubagal RR, Shivappa SG, Mahale RP, Neelambike SM. Study of bacterial flora associated with mobile phones of healthcare workers and non-healthcare workers. Iran J Microbiol. 2017;9(3):143-151. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29225753.