What's protecting who and how?

A tip sheet to answer those PPE questions

By Patti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CIC
Infection Preventionist, Dallas, TX

The public is getting savvier by the day regarding what is expected in healthcare facilities from an infection prevention standpoint. It wasn't too long ago that communication with the general public was an uncommon occurrence. Not so today. As mainstream media escalate coverage of healthcare-associated infections and consumer-based websites gain in popularity, our profession has become more prominent.

As with most change there are sidesteps along the way, as our infection prevention domain becomes general knowledge. One fairly large hurdle I've encountered is questions from non-healthcare staff regarding use of gloves, masks, and gowns [Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)]. These questions aren't new. Staff have long asked for clarification when trying to differentiate between Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) mandates and/or individual state regulations.

As an iPNewbie I'd be surprised if this seemingly simple, yet complex, PPE predicament of question and answer has not crossed your path. You may have brought the perspective of a bedside professional and PPE use into this job. What may be a new skill to master is the public calling to report "that nurse didn't wear gloves when starting my intravenous line." So how do you quickly and tactfully sort it all out without misunderstandings?

Over time, practice with these question and answer situations has made it easier to survive the many angles of PPE and infection prevention and control signage inquiries; however, the pull of needing a visual aide never subsided. Well, necessity is the mother of invention. The table included in this edition of iPNewbie hopefully will help you learn and share faster than I was able to accomplish on my own as a new infection preventionist. (See chart below.)

The table is based on years of question and answer sessions with staff, patients and their visitors. It helps keep me focused and not stray from their specific concern. Although nothing is "always" — that is the word chosen to illustrate PPE use and non-verbal infectious hazard communication in reference to protecting bedside staff because of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard. Please e-mail questions (sngsmart@tx.rr.com) as this is not endorsed by CDC or OSHA, but it has established its usefulness as I continue to navigate the many angles of PPE and signage queries.

Chart 1