The importance of handwashing has never been more obvious than in recent months, but as experts continue to share information on the spread of the virus, there’s a need to disinfect more than just our hands. In healthcare settings where the spread of infectious diseases is not just a possibility, but a likelihood on any given day, healthcare leaders are examining the best methods to clean devices, such as mobile computers.
According to a recent study by the Healthcare Infection Society, almost all (99.2%) hospital staff smartphones were contaminated with potential pathogens and thought to pose an infection risk. As mobile devices become even more prominent in everyday care settings, this number shows just how crucial it is for facilities to implement device cleaning protocols. Without a policy in place, the chance of disease spreading in healthcare environments is exponentially higher, putting both patients and providers at risk. In some instances, nurses have been known to have as many as 10 patients in one shift, showing just how many points of contact there are during each nurse’s workday.
Where to Start
As healthcare facilities look to implement their own device cleaning policy, one of the most important factors to remember is that not every device is the same, and as such, not every device will have the same cleaning regimen. The best way for organizations to determine which cleaning agents are safe to use is to refer to the device user guide from the manufacturer. These guidelines typically include the purity or formulation levels for each ingredient, including the types of cleaning agents to avoid. Failure to follow these protocols could result in device damage if the wrong cleaning agents or ingredients are used to wipe it down.
To ensure an optimal cleaning policy and disinfection schedule, it will also be important to consider the environment in which the devices will be used. Devices that are used in patient rooms will need to be disinfected more frequently compared to other locations within a hospital. Determining the number of patients being helped by each practitioner and the reason they are each being cared for can also help facilities develop an appropriate schedule for device disinfection.
Disinfecting Versus Cleaning
Although the terms “cleaning” and “disinfecting” are often used interchangeably in healthcare settings, the two processes are significantly different and suited for very different use cases. When cleaning a device, most facilities are referring to the steps taken to wipe the dirt and other grime from the surface of a mobile device or barcode scanner. This process helps remove visible debris from the device that can be seen by the human eye.
However, this does not remove bacteria and potential pathogens that could be sitting on the device. In order to properly remove bacteria, healthcare workers need to disinfect their devices with the correct cleaning agents. This is where a regular cleaning schedule with guidelines is necessary because routine device cleaning does not always eliminate the dangerous bacteria that can pose a risk to patients and clinicians.
Considering the Right Technologies
One of the biggest limitations holding some organizations back from implementing a proper device wipe down protocol is the durability of the devices in use. Unfortunately, not all mobile devices are purpose-built for healthcare environments and capable of withstanding the rigorous cleaning and disinfection needed to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and bacteria. This is most commonly seen when physicians are using their own consumer-grade devices during patient care. These devices can’t hold up to disinfectant procedures and the chemicals used in these solutions can lead to cracks and breaks in the material. Not only does this pose a risk for cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria from one patient to another, but providers using these devices outside of healthcare facilities can take the bacteria and pathogens home with them.
In order for mobile devices to meet a hospital’s cleaning policies, the right ingress protection (IP) sealing is needed to prevent damage from chemical cleaning solutions. For hospitals allowing physicians to use their own devices, the right sealing will need to be added to their devices to reduce the damage from cleaning agents. Many hospitals though utilize durable or rugged enterprise-class mobile devices that are purpose-built for healthcare environments and can withstand harsher cleaning protocols during their long lifecycle.
As healthcare organizations continue to evolve to meet the needs of today’s environment, having proper device wipe down protocols in place will become a priority to help reduce the spread of infectious diseases in their facilities.
About Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN
Rikki Jennings, BSN, RN, CPN is the Chief Nursing Informatics Officer (CNIO) at Zebra Technologies where she is responsible for combining her knowledge of patient care, informatics concepts, and change management to effectively address the information and knowledge needs of healthcare professionals and patients to promote safe, effective, and efficient use of IT in clinical settings. She also serves as the strategic liaison for health IT efforts representing nursing and clinician needs.