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When Visible Cleanliness and High Levels of Bacteria Co-Exist…

January 2016
Author: Lisa Ellis

Your Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores reflect your patients’ views of the cleanliness of your facility. Yet their visual perceptions might not match the reality of your environment.

The truth is that visual cleanliness doesn’t always mean that your rooms are free from contamination. In fact, it’s possible for a room or unit to be clean to the naked eye while still containing high levels of bacteria. If you were to test a room occupied by a patient with MRSA before and after your cleaning crew does their job, you would find that the cleaning process didn’t remove all of this resilient bacteria from common surfaces. This means that other patients—and your staff—are at risk of getting sick. Before you know it, you could be dealing with a serious outbreak.

One powerful cleaning method that seems to be effective to combat resilient bacteria is hydrogen peroxide vapor. This form of decontamination offers much promise for reducing hospital-acquired infections. However, it can also be very challenging to use in many of today’s typical hospital settings.

Consider the logistics. In order for hydrogen peroxide vapor to do the trick, you need to bring in a special generator, remove the patient from the room, and seal off the space (blocking cracks beneath doors, window frames, and vents so no fumes can escape). Then you can run the generator to fill the room with the vapor for a few hours until it has killed everything in its wake. Once the vapor has done the job, you will need fans to remove any remaining fumes from the air before the patient can return. All of this translates to a very cumbersome and time-intensive process that can be difficult to perform on a regular basis.

So what does this mean for designers and engineers?

With antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria posing increasingly serious risks to hospital patients, you have a unique—and important—opportunity to step up to the plate and help create new spaces that can better support such decontamination efforts.

Some of the details to embrace in future building designs include rooms that can easily and efficiently be sealed off in order to sterilize them properly, a central ventilation system that can be controlled from outside the room, and a detector to let you know when the air has been cleaned of all contaminants.

As healthcare continues to evolve over the next decade, remember that such thoughtful planning can go a long way toward making the visible cleanliness of your environment become a true indicator of the safety of your space.

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