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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Jeopardy Answer, 'Culture Shock.' Buzzer! “What Would Happen if Hospitals used the Ebola Empowered-Team Approach to Prevent all Healthcare Infections?'

The Ebola outbreak that fueled fear in America and still smolders on in West Africa has left infection preventionists with a legion of lessons to ponder. Accordingly, practical points on improving communications, training, donning and doffing of protective gear were recently discussed in Nashville at the opening session of the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), But in addition to some 4,300 infection preventionists, there was an elephant in the room.

Credit Michael Bell, MD -- deputy director of the division of healthcare quality promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- for bringing it up after a discussion on the rigorous demands of Ebola infection control.

“I will ask you based on what we have seen, is this what [infection control] looks like when we decide we are really going to do it for real?” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of infections being caused, transmitted through hands, a soiled environment — all of the things that we paid attention to for Ebola, but we seem to be doing it in a different way. Granted, it is a more threatening infection, we certainly fear it a great deal more, but the person who just had a bypass operation is fearful of MRSA. What does this mean for us as a profession down the road?”

It was a tough question, implying that some, if not many, of the 75,000 patients lost every year to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) could be alive today if they had been treated with the vigilance applied to Ebola. Indeed, in the silence after his comments, Bell asked, “Was that too honest?”

Applying some of the approaches used in the care of the 10 Ebola patients treated in the U.S. would cause some culture shock at hospitals using the entrenched, hierarchical approach of traditional medicine. Imagine going from that to a system where all healthcare workers are empowered to speak up about a breach or oversight that may endanger other healthcare workers or the patient.

For more on the this story see the August 2015 issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.