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Farrah Lee, BSN, and Natalie Lind, ACE
For most patients and their families, the process of healthcare appears to be a simpleone. Patients are admitted to the facility and a specific course of treatment and care iscarried out by physicians, nurses, and technicians. Additional departments such as thepharmacy, nutrition services, etc. support that care process. What most of these clientsfail to see is the larger network of support that monitors the care process and providesdirection to minimize risk to the patient. Every healthcare facility usesinterdisciplinary task forces such as the Safety Committee and the Infection ControlCommittee to minimize patient and employee risk. Although its existence may not be widelyrecognized by patients, the Infection Control Committee plays an integral part in the careof every patient.
Who Serves on the Infection Control Committee?
The Infection Control Committee is generally comprised of members from a varietyof disciplines within the healthcare facility. Representation may include: physicians,nursing staff, infection control practitioners, quality assurance personnel, riskmanagement personnel as well as representatives from microbiology, surgery, centralsterilization, environmental services, etc. The goal of this interdisciplinary team is tobring together individuals with expertise in different areas of healthcare. By creating adiverse group, issues can be addressed from several angles, and members can pool theirexpertise to develop the best solutions possible.
Ordinarily, membership on the committee is ongoing, but additional staff members may beasked 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 beinvolved in planning, monitoring, evaluating, updating, and educating. It sets generalinfection control policy and provides input into specific infection control issues. Simplystated, its function is to prevent and control nosocomial infections. That is accomplishedin a variety of ways some of which include: surveillance of nosocomial infections, productevaluation, investigation of infection outbreaks and infection clusters, development ofinfection control procedures for all departments, staff and patient education, medicalwaste management, etc.
How Does the Infection Control Committee Prevent and Control Infection?
The Infection Control Committee uses several tools to ensure patient and employeesafety. They include the following:
Planning: Successful prevention and control of infection requires carefulplanning. The Infection Control Committee is actively involved with the planning andimplementation of new procedures that pose a potential infection control risk. Forexample, it may provide guidance for the set-up of an endoscopy lab or the implementationof a new procedure. Its role in the planning process is to examine the proposal, identifypotential areas of concern, and recommend a course of action that provides the best methodof infection control.
The committee also may provide input into the selection of chemicals used to manage theenvironment, such as detergents and disinfectants. It may also provide input into theselection of equipment used to process instruments and accessories. The multidisciplinarycomposition of the committee makes it an ideal place to examine new product and procedureproposals from several aspects.
Monitoring: The Infection Control Committee also monitors infectious processeswithin the healthcare facility. They track nosocomial infections and incidents that havethe potential to cause infections. They review infection control statistics from thefacility in an effort to minimize risk, identify problem areas, and implement correctiveactions.
When infections do occur, the committee undertakes epidemiological investigations todetermine the cause of the problem and recommends the necessary education or changes inprotocols.
Evaluating: Along with monitoring specific incidents, the Infection ControlCommittee also looks at the bigger picture as it continually strives to improve processeswithin the facility. This is demonstrated by the regular review of infection controlprocedures for all departments. The committee may also be called upon to evaluatepractices and provide input regarding products and protocols.
Updating: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that all Infection ControlCommittees face is keeping current. The constant advancement of medical technologyintroduces changes at all levels within the healthcare facility, new bacterial strainscomplicate and challenge older infection control practices, and new research oftenrequires re-examination of established procedures. The Infection Control Committee'spurpose is to provide guidance and leadership through these changes. This requires thatall 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'sinfection control policy.
Educating: Finally, as an integral part of its leadership, the committee musttake an active role in staff education. That role may be a hands-on approach or it may bean advisory role in partnership with the facility's education department. However itfunctions, the committee must set direction for staff education and validation of thateducation.
The education process should address at least two specific areas. The first area shouldbe that of general infection control education. This is usually accomplished through anannual education program designed for all employees. This program is designed to providethe groundwork for general infection control protocols, which create a safe environmentfor both patients and employees. Information such as standard bloodborne pathogeneducation, etc. is covered in these programs.
The second educational need that the Infection Control Committee addresses is the needfor updating. In the constantly changing healthcare arena, the committee must find a wayto communicate changes and updates to the entire hospital staff. This is usually donethrough inservices, newsletters, or published committee communications like meetingminutes. Whatever the method, the goal must be to create a smooth flow of information toall employees. Both of these educational roles should focus on creating awareness ofinfection control and developing the appropriate skills necessary to function effectivelyon the job.
Why Is the Infection Control Committee Important?
Everyone knows that infection control is the responsibility of all healthcareworkers. Patients and employees are only safe from infectious processes when everyonefollows good infection control techniques. The purpose of the Infection Control Committeeis not to reduce the individual responsibility that each healthcare provider has, but toprovide leadership for all employees throughout the facility. Through policies,procedures, and evaluation processes, the committee acts as a central clearing house forall infection control information and channels that information in a manner that willcreate the safest healthcare environment.
It also helps to standardize infection control procedures throughout the facility sothat the same level of care is provided in all departments. This standardization helps tocontrol and maintain the facility's environment and ensures that patients receive the samelevel of infection control in all areas. For example, the Infection Control Committee maytake steps to ensure that the standard for instruments used in invasive proceduresperformed 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, theInfection Control Committee communicates with employees through the use of procedures. Thecommittee is responsible to maintain written infection control procedures, which should beavailable to all employees. The committee also provides guidance for the prevention ofincidents through other established informational channels within the facility. Whenproblems arise, the committee will provide specific direction to a department ordepartments that details corrective actions that are deemed necessary. The committee willmeet regularly, and its meeting minutes should be available upon request.
In addition to channeling information through itself, the committee often coordinatescommunication 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 controlinfection. Achieving that goal requires the skills and input of the many healthcaredisciplines that serve on the committee and the cooperation of all employees. TheInfection Control Committee is designed to provide clear direction to help everyone createand 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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