The Scrubs-as-Streetwear Debate Rages On


One of my more popular blogs of 2006 struck a chord with a number of ICT readers who reacted to the scrubs-as-streetwear debate. Its unbelievable that such a critical issue remains unresolved within the industry, and that the paucity of hard science endures. In my blog I referenced a news snippet in The New York Times published online in November in which writer C. Claiborne Ray, comments, Though a bigger infection risk to hospital patients lies in the failure by hospital staff members to thoroughly wash their hands between patients and procedures, contaminated scrubs can be a risk both inside and outside the hospital. Using scrubs as streetwear may threaten not only patients health, but also the health of people outside the hospital, infection control experts say. Ray then points to the study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in 2000 which revealed that bacteria survived for long periods on fabrics commonly found in the hospital environment, including scrubs, lab coats, and privacy curtains. Ray notes, Many hospitals recommend or require that staff members who come into contact with patients use only hospital-laundered protective garments and change them when they become soiled. The risk of carrying blood and other contaminated body fluids out of the hospital is the basis for the rules at many hospitals that surgical garb must stay inside the building. For just one example, the rules for surgical residents at the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign state: Scrubs are not to be worn outside the hospital or taken home. This rule will be strictly enforced without exception. Taking soiled surgical attire from the operating room into the home can result in the spread of potential contamination to the home environment.

In my blog I asked readers for their take on the issue, and infection control practitioner Lynne Nash, RN, BSN, who works for SLV Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, Colo., had this to say: It would be a step in the right direction for hospitals to require that staff members change into scrubs at work and out of them before going home. However, hospitals would then incur the cost of scrubs and laundering for many more employees than they do with only providing for the operating room staff. Those hospitals without changing rooms or locker areas by gender would then have to remodel to add the space to accommodate the changing area and storage area for the scrubs. By going to one type of scrub common to all on the floor or in the hospital, nurses will lose the individualism some like in picking their own scrubs. Training the new nurses is not as difficult, but obtaining buy-in from the more seasoned staff may be where the trouble would lie. When I was a staff nurse, I would have liked to have my scrubs laundered for me and been able to change at work. It would have been easier than changing in the laundry room before hugging my kids. There is no easy way to enforce a change such as this, however, in our ever-changing world of bacteria, it would be beneficial to our patients and our staff. It would also serve to teach people in the hospital about the seriousness of the bacteria and viruses we deal with today.

We take a look at this issue in our PPE Update, starting on page 22, as well as explore the FDAs move to improve standards for medical gloves. If youre looking for PPE-related information this month, weve got you covered.

Until next month, bust those bugs!

Kelly M. Pyrek 
Group Editor, Medical Division 

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