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By Susan M. Slavish, BSN, MPH, CIC
Bioterrorismreadiness, patient safety, interventional epidemiology ... they are all part ofthe ever-changing role of the infection control practitioner (ICP). A dynamicdiscipline since its inception in response to the Staphylococcus aureuspandemic in the 1950s, infection control has responded to the challengespresented by new diseases, emerging pathogens, new technology, changingreimbursement and regulatory standards.
As ICPs, we have learned how to conduct epidemiologic investigations andeducate other healthcare providers and the public about infection-relatedissues. We have demonstrated the value of a quality program and worked withothers to implement evidence-based practices to reduce or preventhealthcare-associated infections.
Basic infection control practices have been taken from the acute care settinginto long-term care, home care, ambulatory surgery centers, the medical anddental office and beyond. We've become computer literate, developed guidelines,moved into the world of research, become politically active and established acertification process. These achievements have been the result of collaborationbetween ICPs, infectious disease physicians, the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (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 bioterrorismreadiness plan was launched by APIC and CDC in 1999. No one could have predictedhow important the resulting template would become in October 2001. Suddenly,ICPs nationally were inundated with questions about a disease that wasunfamiliar to many, even in healthcare.
It reminded me of the mid-1980s when AIDS was the emerging infection controlissue and ICPs were involved daily in educating nervous healthcare providers,apprehensive family and friends and a frightened public. The professional andthe profession adapted through education and networking. It also reminded methat performing our role effectively requires awareness of current issuesimpacting the profession and healthcare in general and the skills to evaluate anissue and to identify and institute practices that can influence the outcome ina positive way. Once again, education and networking are keys if we are tosuccessfully respond to current issues.
This month, APIC's annual educational conference and international meeting inNashville provides interested healthcare professionals with the opportunity tolearn about current issues facing infection control. The opportunity to networkwith peers and experts will also be provided. The theme of this year'sconference focuses on one of the major challenges facing the healthcarecommunity -- patient safety. It acknowledges the link between infection controland patient safety, one that has existed since the profession's beginning.
Sessions will build on the knowledge that infection prevention, surveillanceand intervention have improved patient outcomes. They will also demonstratecollaborative approaches to reduce non-adverse outcomes. It is an achievablegoal that has already been demonstrated by a number of healthcare organizationsnationally. Presenters will also provide us with new information on practices --including hand hygiene -- that have always been important to controllinginfections.
There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to contribute to thereduction of serious medical errors. It is an exciting new era for the infectioncontrol profession and positions all of us to champion patient safety.
Susan M. Slavish, BSN, MPH, CIC, is the infection and environmentalcontrol coordinator for The Queen's Medical Center Nursing Service Department inHonolulu, Hawaii. She is the immediate past-president of the Association forProfessionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).