Take Advantage of Technology in Infection Prevention!

Take Advantage of Technology in Infection Prevention!

At Tampa General Hospital, we think about the importance of technology in infection prevention (IP), all the time. The health and safety of our patients always come first. I’m overwhelmed with the sheer volume of products and topics available when I really think about it.

The variety of innovation and tech has increased, especially since the arrival of COVID-19. However, the biggest bang for your buck is to consider rehauling your IP department from the inside out. Those within healthcare who didn’t know who we are or what we do certainly do now!

COVID has truly highlighted the importance and significance of infection preventionists. Requests for IP involvement have increased, which is wonderful. It is great to see the variety of departments that are truly interested in partnering with IP and no longer see us as a “clinician with a clipboard.” With these increasing demands including regulatory requirements, how do we move forward with our ultimate mission of preventing healthcare-associated infections, with limited resources?

We are a data-driven department with extensive regulatory reporting, and surveillance of process and outcome measures. What can you do to free up the infection preventionists’ time? The addition of a new team member isn’t always the answer. It is critical to reassess practices and workflows. 

Best practices reflect infection preventionists physically being out on the floors, not trapped in the office at their desk. Being out and about talking to staff is the most beneficial aspect of IP, and truly has the biggest impact on healthcare practices. This day-to-day relationship building is vital. It is opportunity to observe practices and processes. There are educational moments that will be retained compared to watching a virtual educational sessional. During times of crisis, it is these relationships and trusted partners which prove to be invaluable.

Consider the following questions:

• What can you automate that you are not currently doing? 

• Do they know how to take advantage of email and scheduling technology?

• What electronic medical records and infection prevention surveillance systems do you have, and are you using them to the best of their abilities? Are your versions outdated?

• Do your IPs have real-time alerting instead of manually pulling reports?

• Does it take hours to create slides and presentations?

• Do your infection preventionists take hours to notify reportable diseases to health departments?  Have you implemented Electronic Lab Reporting?

• Can you exclude negative labs to help eliminate “white noise” from their lab reviews?

Chart reviews for healthcare-associated infections are time-consuming. We cannot always remove duties, but we can shorten the time we spend on each. Try shifting to a more proactive approach with real-time reporting. This allows the IP to respond in a timely manner and perhaps actually prevent an infection, instead of reporting one. Remember, we are now called infection prevention for a reason, not infection control.  If your IP teams are dependent upon manually pulling reports, important data may only be viewed daily, which may put them a day behind actionable response. Communication tools are also important. With large workloads, your IPs must be organized. Not all IPs are tech savvy, so it is important they understand how to take advantage of all the bells and whistles that your various system offers, including programs for email and meeting scheduling. Most importantly, take advantage of your younger generation of IPs who bring fresh ideas and technological skills. 

“COVID has truly highlighted the importance and significance of infection preventionists.”

At Tampa General Hospital, our vision is to become the safest and most innovative academic medical center in the country. Blending safety and technology has prompted our IP department to develop an automated (Qlik) Dashboard with our process and outcome data. Data will automatically pull from our various databases. This saves time in uploading, updating, and manipulating data. The goal of the dashboard will be to automate manual practices and even automate email communication and visual data presentations. 

Other technology elements that impact the infection prevention department are the tools and databases that collect observations and audits. Multiple databases mean leaders and individual users need to learn multiple platforms, remember multiple passwords and develop multiple workflows. IP must manually combine data from multiple databases for reporting purposes. Consider transitioning to a single, user-friendly platform to compile all your audit and observation needs.

My final recommendation for all infection prevention departments would be investing in a data analyst. IP departments across the country are including these individuals more frequently, and it is no surprise. They bring technological skills and capabilities to the department and can quickly react to their fast-paced needs. When you have a suspected outbreak in one of your intensive care units, this team member can get you a detailed line list for quick review and response.

It is now more important than ever that healthcare departments be nimble, agile, and efficient.  Infection prevention departments are no different. Efficiency allows us to achieve our goal of giving back the IP time – time for valuable conversations, process observations and educational moments with all persons entering our healthcare facilities, including providers, team members and patients. This will ultimately prevent infections and improve patient safety.

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