Infection Preventionists Possess HAI Data Hospital Administrators Need

Frank Diamond

Frank Diamond has been with Infection Control Today since November 2019. He has more than 30 years of experience working for magazines, newspapers, and television news.

Ann Scheck McAlearney, ScD, MS: “Infection preventionists … can provide managers with the guidance provided by this type of research, as well as the data to support infection prevention efforts….”

When it comes to tracking and containing health care-acquired infections (HAIs), infection preventionists (IPs) might not be considered management, but hospital administrators would be wise to lean on IPs in the never-ending battle against HAIs. Ann Scheck McAlearney, ScD, MS, is the lead author of a recent study about the need for hospital management to get more involved in HAI control. A distinguished professor of family and community medicine at Ohio State University College of Medicine, McAlearney recently offered some advice on how hospitals can become high-performing organizations in an email exchange with Infection Control Today®.

ICT®: The management strategies that you outline in your study for hospital managers to better help infection prevention: They would seem to be somewhat common sense. And yet problems that hospitals have with hand hygiene compliance and health care-acquired infections indicate that those management techniques aren’t used enough. Fair assumption?

McAlearney: Yes indeed. The real challenge with these strategies is getting people to do the right thing 100% of the time. If we can help managers make it easier for everyone to do the right thing, then we can succeed with infection prevention.

ICT®: What made you decide to do the study in the first place?

McAlearney: My background is in management and leadership and one of the studies I was leading some time ago was looking at what are called “high-performance work practices” in health care organizations. We were looking for things that higher-performing organizations did well and that might not be present (or as consistently done) in lower-performing organizations. I was interested in translating this research into the area of infection prevention, and this led to additional study of hospitals’ HAI prevention practices. Examining those practices among higher- and lower-performing hospitals in CLABSI performance led to the creation of a list of management strategies that we have been elaborating on in our current study. Funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), this study is called “Searching for Management Approaches to Reduce HAI Transmission (SMART).”

ICT®: What surprised you the most about your findings?

McAlearney:Perhaps not a surprise but a great thing to emphasize is that everyone really wants to do the right thing around infection prevention. No one wants patients to get infections, and they are genuinely eager for additional insight about how to address this challenge in health care.

ICT®: Does it help that the CDC has targeted (at least in some respects) HAIs as a problem that must be addressed? If so, how so? If not, why not?

McAlearney:Absolutely. As HAI data must be submitted by hospitals, this makes hospitals very motivated to improve their numbers and prevent infections.

ICT®: My core readership comprises infection preventionists. What role might they play here? Would they be considered management? Or the monitors that would make management’s goals plausible?

McAlearney:Infection preventionists clearly play a critical role in HAI prevention. In this context, they would not necessarily be considered management, but they can provide managers with the guidance provided by this type of research, as well as the data to support infection prevention efforts, and tools to help with education and reeducation of staff as needed.

ICT®: Is there anything that I neglected to ask that you think is important and that you want to add?

McAlearney:Yes. In addition to articles such as this one, an important product we are developing as part of this study is an HAI Prevention Toolkit. The SMART Toolkit will be made publicly available on a website and will include resources (e.g., PowerPoint presentations, education exercises, case studies) that managers and frontline staff can use to enhance their infection prevention efforts. There will also be a benchmarking survey that will be available on the website that hospitals can distribute to their employees and see how infection prevention is going in their own organization. The SMART Toolkit is currently scheduled to debut in 2022.