PICTURE CREDIT: MICHAEL AUDA
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It’s time to talk about… germs. (Side note: have you sanitized your smartphone recently?)
The COVID-19 pandemic made us all much more concerned with limiting the spread of infection. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its first report discussing infection prevention and control (IPC) in healthcare settings globally.
While many of the recommendations discussed are behaviorally related, such as hand hygiene and patient screening, some also focus on how the built environment can help reduce the spread of infectious disease. “Patient care activities must be carried out in a clean and hygienic environment that facilitates practices related to the prevention and control of HAIs. [healthcare-associated infections]”, the report says.
Hospitals and clinics must be prepared to handle the next global health crisis, as well as current challenges, such as an aging population. But, as with so many other industries, there is also a labor concern.
As the current cohort of infection prevention specialists leaves the workforce, “there will be an impact on the skill set in hospitals,” explains Chris Burke, director of segment strategy and execution at DIRTT, a advanced industrialized construction system.
A multifaceted but standardized approach to infection prevention that includes behavior changes and improved built environments is key to preparing for future healthcare needs, he says.
Prevention (with layers of protection) is the best cure
“You’re seeing this overlap of multiple best practices in hospital settings to get the results they want: start to reduce hospital infections and increase infection prevention,” says Burke.
The healthcare-associated infections you refer to are dangerous and expensive. The WHO report notes that “out of every 100 hospitalized patients, seven will become infected with an AIH”, but 70% of these are preventable with increased effective PCI interventions. And since HAIs are often caused by multidrug-resistant organisms, prevention is the medicine of choice.
One of the many layers of prevention that hospitals are adopting is enhanced monitoring, Burke says. Visual inspections are often insufficient and a surface can appear flawless, while hiding pathogens invisible to the naked eye.
Solutions include marking surfaces with fluorescent gel pens, which are still visible under UV lights if traces remain after scrubbing. If streaks of gel appear after cleaning, perhaps more sinister germs are still lurking.
Other tactics are more advanced, such as ultraviolet-C (UVC) light, which destroys bacteria at certain wavelengths of radiation. HPV decontamination (hydrogen peroxide in vaporized form) also harms microorganisms.
Beyond updated protocols and improved cleaning solutions, IPC programs benefit from updates to the way healthcare environments are built.
Integrate infection prevention into the built environment
Industrialized construction is particularly suitable to support infection prevention.
For example, modular building systems such as the DIRTT offer special finishes for manufactured surfaces. They are designed to resist bleach and other disinfectants, increasing durability and allowing for better cleaning practices.
thermofoilWhat Burke calls a “workhorse finish in the healthcare space,” is a heat-applied laminate that can be layered and vacuum-sealed to the substrate, without the germ-trapping gaps left by traditional laminates. . It’s also easier to clean than standard surfaces.
In addition to materials and surfaces that enhance day-to-day IPC, an industrialized construction approach also benefits changes or renovations in healthcare settings, Burke says.
Modular systems are “designed to be disassembled,” he explains, making the process of retrofitting a space—a common requirement in healthcare—faster, cleaner, and even quieter.
Drink modular walls, for instance. They feature a frame coat, utility coat, and then finish coats, all of which can be removed and accessed separately for either easy cleaning or reconditioning.
“The system reduces the need for HEPA filtration, tarping a space, and reduces patient and caregiver exposure to particulates and dust from a typical renovation project.” Reducing the time spent on renewals also minimizes disruption and the chance of spreading infection during maintenance.
Modular environments can also be converted or built as negative or positive pressure rooms, helping to reduce air leakage and therefore the spread of contaminants. The spaces are equipped with joint systems that better control the flow of air in and out of the rooms. Those same gaskets create a seal that prevents bacteria from entering and reproducing within the wall cavity.
This containment or release of air is necessary for disease units, laboratories, and other medical settings where hazardous particles are present.
Looking ahead to IPC’s future innovations, “there’s a big movement to bring contactless technology into healthcare settings,” says Burke. Again, emerging infection prevention options like these are enabled by easy-to-upgrade industrialized building systems that make it simple to add voice activation and other controls to monitors already on site.
“This behavioral component of modularizing is really a game changer when creating spaces in a healthcare environment, allowing them to adapt and change over time to whatever the unknown future need is going to be.”
This article originally appeared on make roomDIRTT’s editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.