There’s no denying that it’s good to live in the 21st century. Technical innovations and advancements have brought us closer together than ever before, and continue to make our lives easier, both personally and professionally. One of the more recent innovations becoming more and more commonplace is the touchscreen. Having such critical information and tools literally at your fingertips will make any job easier; though, in the case of the touchscreen, it’s not without its drawbacks — even for the necessarily high-tech medical industry.
Smartphones, Touchscreens, and Infection
When your working environment is very sensitive with regards to the spreading of infection and diseases, any contact surface is a potential vector for infection. The last thing you want is a contagion spreading within or beyond the healthcare environment — healthcare-associated infections have long been an expensive burden to bear, both on patients and taxpayers. Touchscreens, with their warm flat surfaces, are prime incubators for all sorts of bacteria and viruses, and the technology is commonplace so that even medical professionals are sometimes remiss of not cleaning them regularly.
It’s easy for someone to handle their mobile phone, transfer germs on their hands, and then unknowingly spread said bacteria to someone else. This goes double for devices that are used by the patient population, such as self-service check-ins, entertainment devices, or handheld displays. In a facility that may see hundreds of people pass through the doors each day, with all kinds of ailments and illnesses, the scene is ripe for something nasty to spread from one patient to another.
This means that hospital staff and patients need to be aware of how best to keep touchscreens clean, and where these devices fit into the spread of healthcare-associated infections.
The Evolving Care Environment
The issue of keeping equipment clean is certainly nothing new, and industry leaders like PDI Healthcare work to ensure that there are many sanitation and infection prevention products available in the healthcare setting. And with so much recent focus on the burden of HAIs, research is ongoing to develop new materials that are more resistant to bacteria, disinfectants that are more effective while being less harsh on equipment, and better protocols to help medical professionals and patients have a safer and healthier care environment. The relationship between the construction of medical equipment and the chemicals used to clean and disinfect them is now better understood — leading to better compatibility and less wear on contact surfaces.
But the problem of addressing HAIs actually starts with the equipment and electronics we use in the healthcare setting. Smartphone technology became so ubiquitous in our society that they began to find their ways into operating theatres before their effect on the standard of care was fully understood. But while many water-cooler conversations might have focused on the potential of distraction or concerns over privacy, data was already being collected about the potential impact on infection control. Many care centers and hospitals have put their own rules in place regarding smartphones in the hopes of alleviating these infection prevention concerns, but many medical professionals are speaking out in favor of national regulation of smart devices in medical facilities as a means of controlling their impact on the care environment with respect to otherwise preventable infection. Dr. Russ Cucina, MD, MS, in a story presented by journalist Richard Quinn of The Hospitalist, goes so far as to suggest that the main issues, as well as solutions, are less technological at this point than they are administrative and behavioral.
The influx of touchscreen display technology in the healthcare sector needs to be similarly analyzed. These displays and interfaces have already proven invaluable in care settings, but their potential for spreading infection is just as great as it is with smartphones, if not greater for their shared-use. The practice of cleaning these devices with sanitary wipes and other infection prevention supplies is paramount, and the next generation of antimicrobial touch surfaces has already been born — a recent development by Gorilla Glass® manufacturer Corning®.
Industry focus on the burden of HAIs is paying off — CDC data has shown decreases in the frequency of a number types of infection over the last few years. But even as the industry continues to integrate new technology and practices into the environment of care and manufacturers continue to research and develop new materials and infection prevention solutions for tomorrow’s patients and medical professionals, we have to maintain that focus.
The burden of healthcare-associated infections is simply too great to ignore.