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HEALTHCARE HYGIENE


OLD TECH V. NEW TECH


Tablets and keyboards are now routinely used in hospitals. But what cross-contamination risks do they pose? And what are the hygiene risks associated with low-tech items such as bed frames, written notes – even healthcare workers’ clothes? Stephen Wright from Tork manufacturer SCA explores this issue.


It is becoming increasingly common for medical workers to use a computer or tablet to carry out routine tasks in a hospital. They might use them for writing up patient’s notes, for example. Tablets are also useful for checking the names of medication along with their recommended doses and side-effects.


There are apps that allow doctors to securely gather patient information such as medical histories, prescriptions, lab results, x-rays, scans, consultations and discharge notes, and this information can then be safely stored in the ‘cloud’.


There are even apps that simulate surgical procedures and allow physicians to conduct simple medical exams such as hearing and vision tests. But what are the cross- contamination risks associated with the growing use of touchscreens?


58 | Tomorrow’s Cleaning April 2016


It is clear from studies that bacteria can remain active for long periods on screens – or on any hard surface, in fact. For example, flu germs can last for up to 24 hours while the cold virus can sometimes survive for seven days according to the NHS. And the bacteria that cause MRSA can live on surfaces for weeks because they are able to thrive more successfully without moisture than some other bacteria and viruses.


So does the increased use of touchscreens and tablets in healthcare add to the cross-contamination threat?


In fact there is no reason why touchscreens should be more dangerous than low-tech objects when it comes to transmitting illnesses. A US study carried out in 2005 – well before the tablet had


become widely used – considered the risks of contamination via patient notes. Microbiological samples were collected from the outer surface of patients’ bedside files in both intensive care and surgical wards.


The study showed that 85% of patient files in intensive care wards were contaminated, often with multidrug- resistant bacteria including MRSA. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of files in the surgical wards were contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria.


The potential transmission of disease in healthcare environments is not limited to doctors’ notes, of course. Since any hard surface is a potential breeding ground for germs it is clear that items of furniture such as bed frames are also a risk, as the bed is likely to be handled by staff; by the


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