One page that may save a few lives
APIC: Spread the word on patient handout
It seems benign enough, with its simple language and cartoon bugs, a piece of paper like so many others that might be handed to patients or family members upon admission. But make no mistake about it, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) has put some powerful medicine in the hands of vulnerable patients with a newly designed education handout. (See APIC infographic p. 142)
Spread the word.
"We are putting a huge communications push behind this," says Carol McLay RN, MPH, DrPH, CIC, chair of the APIC communications committee. "Not to just media outlets themselves, but we are going to a lot of different health care associations, organizations. We’re hoping we can really create a groundswell."
Some 100,000 patients die every year of health care associated infections (HAIs), a good portion of which can almost certainly be prevented. Time to empower the patient and bring the IP to their bedside. A single break in technique could be all that stands between the frail immune system of a family member and a teeming colony of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae coming down the hall on the hands of a health care worker.
Created after a few brainstorming sessions recently in Fort Lauderdale at APIC’s annual meeting, the simple handout holds the potential to literally save lives. Of course APIC’s infographic urges patients to wash their hands often and remind health care workers to do the same. But it also includes simple tips and reminders about medication and injection safety, considering an antimicrobial bath before surgery, and asking if your catheter is still medically indicated.
Concerning the latter, for example, medical epidemiologist and UTI researcher Sanjay Saint, MD, warns that each day a urinary catheter remains in place the patient runs about a 5% risk of acquiring a UTI. He has also found that catheters can be "lost in place" by busy medical staff, heightening the risk of infection and a cascade of other adverse events by creating a bacterial highway to the bladder.1 (See Hospital Infection Control & Prevention July 2008, p. 17)
"We tried to distill this down to the most important elements and put it into a much more visual format" says Liz Garman, APIC communications director.
In addition to providing critical infection prevention tips, APIC highlights the role of one of the most important people in the stay of a hospital patient: the infection preventionist. As part of its continuing effort to bring the IP to the bedside and make patients aware of a role that has been somewhat obscured over the years, APIC has an IP profile complete with Sherlock Holmes’ iconic deerstalker hat.
"Infection preventionists use their detective skills to find the bad germs and make sure everyone is doing the right things to keep you safe," the handout tells the patient.
Within that simple sentence hangs a considerable tale. These erstwhile "infection control nurses" or "practitioners" once were mere shadow figures to unsuspecting patients, collecting arcane data on "nosocomial" infections as their fledgling field began in the fabled silos. With liability concerns and uncertain science in these early days of health care epidemiology, infection prevention labored under a "psychopathology of secrecy," as distinguished hospital epidemiologist Vicky Fraser, MD, once described it to HIC. Of course those days are long past. Infection control and HAIs are now much more understood by the public, but one still must wonder if a few hospital administrators might be a little reluctant to remind patients of the real threat of infections and the protective presence of their local IP. Will they hand out the handout?
"I’m sure there are some hospitals that may be a little hesitant to use it, but for the most part we are beyond that in this new age of transparency," McLay says. "Patients need to be empowered and informed so they can play an active role in their care. We want every patient in the hospital to have a copy of this. I would love it if when patients are first admitted to the hospital they receive [the APIC handout] in their admission packet along with a big bottle of hand sanitizer."
Editor’s note: The APIC patient handout is also available online at http://professionals.site.apic.org. With the full support of APIC, HIC urges readers to copy and distribute the form included in this issue to patients, family and friends.