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Engage patients in infection prevention

Patient safety

Engage patients in infection prevention

IC education slated as National Patient Safety Goal

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • List at least two ways to raise patients’ awareness of the importance of infection control (IC) practices

Healthcare facilities are increasingly seeking ways to empower patients in their own care. When it comes to IC, this mission hinges on educating patients about infections and the steps they can take to prevent them.

To further reinforce the importance of patient education, The Joint Commission (formerly JCAHO), in its 2009 National Patient Safety Goals, wants to ensure that facilities are properly educating patients on IC. This education can take many forms, from printed materials to one-on-one talks with IC professionals about infection-associated issues.

Most facilities are probably already performing such education, but they should also be certain they are documenting their training to meet any potential regulatory requirements, says Heather M. Gilmartin, RN, MSN, APRN, CIC, a nurse epidemiologist at Vail (CO) Valley Medical Center. One way to produce documentation is to use printed educational materials and include a check box on the nursing admission form that indicates your facility offered the education, she says.

Your education technique should vary based on your facility’s characteristics, but most facilities use a combination of methods. The nature of your education program may depend on your facility’s size.

“We’re a small, 58-bed hospital in rural Colorado,” says Gilmartin. “We have a very low multidrug-resistant organism rate.” The facility doesn’t have many MRSA or C. diff cases, so when it encounters a patient with one of these organisms, Gilmartin typically educates the patient in person. “We talk to them directly and give them education specific to their diseases,” she says.

Carol Landis, RN, IC nurse at Memorial Health System in Abilene, KS, says she doesn’t have time to take the same approach, but she still performs direct patient education when possible. For example, she says she makes time to talk to family members of patients and answer questions when she’s walking through patient care areas.

Below are some other effective education strategies that these two facilities employ:

  • Welcome patients with a message. Take advantage of your first opportunity to deliver information to patients by posting signs at the entrance of the facility or having staff members greet patients. At Vail, one way that staff members raise awareness about hand hygiene is by giving patients and visitors alcohol-based hand sanitizer when they arrive.
  • Post lots of signs. One means of giving patients quick, targeted information on a specific topic, such as hand hygiene, is to post signs around the facility. Vail even has poems in its bathrooms for patients to read while they wash their hands, which takes about the same amount of time to read as the patient or staff member washes his or her hands. The hope is that offering reading material will help people wash longer—the recommended amount of time is 15 seconds.
  • Tailor your educational materials to your patients. At Memorial, Landis developed three sets of informational materials on MRSA with varying amounts of detail so staff members can decide which materials best meet the patient’s needs. For example, elderly patients whose families are not primarily responsible for their care might be given basic information, whereas patients who have many questions about their conditions might be given more detailed information.


Briefings on Infection Control, August 2008, HCPro, Inc.