As we move from spring into summer, many regions of the country are still grappling with rising COVID-19 infection numbers, even as lockdowns are lifted and businesses reopen. For some cities, the numbers have plateaued or even dropped; across the board, however, there is concern about a second wave of COVID-19 cases emerging in the fall, especially in combination with the annual uptick in seasonal influenza cases.
A vaccine already exists for the flu, but adult vaccination coverage was at 45.3% for the 2018-2019 flu season, meaning less than half of all American adults received the preventative. Scientists are hard at work attempting to create a vaccine for COVID-19, but for the intervening flu seasons or a second wave of the novel coronavirus, it is incumbent on patients and providers to work to stave off infections as much as possible rather than treating them after the fact.
Here are four ways to prevent and control infections during this time.
- Promote hand hygiene
One of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus is for all parties — healthcare workers, patients, families and the broader community alike — to practice good hand hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after being in public, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is acceptable.
While individuals should practice hand hygiene to prevent the spread of infection, a very real concern hospital patients have is whether hospital staff and other visitors to their room have done the same.
Advanced location technology like RTLS or RFID-enabled badges can aid in the compliance of healthcare workers for hand-washing policies. Essentially, when a healthcare worker enters a room, a prompt can be shown on the patient engagement software, asking the patient to verify that the provider has washed their hands.
This serves two purposes: It protects both staff and patients, and it helps automate documentation of hand hygiene compliance and non-compliance. This automation frees providers from some level of rote paperwork and documentation, allowing them to turn their attention to increased patient care.
- Stop the spread before it starts
One key way to prevent or control the spread of infections for both patients and providers is to utilize a point-of-entry panel that can communicate critical information about a patient’s condition and the precautions needed before entering the patient’s room. GetWell Signal, for example, conveys automated information from the EMR about patient risks, precautions, allergies and preferences.
Posting information about infection or contagion risk before providers, families and patients enter a room can make the difference between healthy, comprehensive care and unnecessary transmission of a virus.
- Take a comprehensive approach to disease management
From handwashing to automatically conveying precaution and risk information to triaging high-risk patients, there’s a lot that can be done to prevent the spread of infections.
But sometimes those individual elements aren’t enough and hospitals and health systems must use a more comprehensive approach to disease management in order to control situations like COVID-19.
In the case of COVID-19, patients in a hospital setting can and should receive a mix of educational tools and access to the latest information and guidelines about the virus during their stay. By preparing patients to leave the hospital and arming them with knowledge about their condition and any threats they may face to their health — viral or otherwise — providers can set not only their patients up for success but also any other individuals or family members they may come into contact with.
- Make it easy to deploy
Ideally, educational and preventative information needs to be accessed quickly and easily, making an iPad an ideal vehicle for delivery. This format lends itself to seamless patient consumption with minimal infrastructure investment.
During a pandemic, when every minute counts in a race against the clock, rapid deployment with iPads and other mobile technology allows for a reduced lead time before patients can access the tools in question. And the faster that patients can learn about the risks and concerns around their condition, the better prepared they will be for discharge and recovery.
The bottom line
COVID-19 remains a global public health emergency, in part due to the high risk of infection and community spread. By arming patients with knowledge and taking steps to control or even prevent infection, healthcare professionals and organizations can keep patients safe both inside and outside of healthcare facilities.