Education is Key to Infection Control

For more than 35 years, Katherine West has been involved with infection control and was a pioneer in education for emergency medical service personnel.After all those years involved with educating providers West said it's "abundantly clear that...

"One needle stick costs between $3,000 to $6,000 to treat and monitor," she said, pointing out the use of non-compliant sharps is sacrificing long-term cost and the long-term health and well-being of the provider for short-term savings.

"It just doesn't make any sense," she said.

With the tight budgets and tough economic times most departments and providers are experiencing, West said it just makes sense to look for savings everywhere and in many cases, doing the right thing can be cheaper in the long run.

For instance, West said she had been advising a provider on communicable and infectious disease control and they were looking at the cost of Betadine as a topical antiseptic. They were under the belief that it was the be all and end all antiseptic for IVs and injections, but after researching, they learned that Betadine was out and Chlorhexidine was in. They learned it was more effective and cheaper, she said.

"It's a matter of using medicine-based practices," West said. "It's a matter of doing homework and reading the research to make purchasing and practice decisions."

Subscribing to the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, West said there's no sense in sacrificing vaccinations and immunizations to save money.

She knows of one department that tried to save money by eliminating flu shots. That, to West, is another example of short-term savings versus long term benefits and savings.

That department, apparently, hadn't considered the cost of replacing providers with overtime employees at a greater cost, she said.

Plus, they hadn't considered the potential cost to the very people they're assigned to protect, the patient, she said, noting that an unprotected provider can easily infect patients.

"Infection control is a two-way street," she said. "...We need to look at the science and recognize that it's a patient safety issue as well."

The science also says that there's no need to take an ambulance out of service while it is "aired out," West said.

"We work in a wipe and go environment," West said, noting there are no infectious or communicable diseases that require airing. One minute contact with premixed products applied by wiping is all that is needed to put an ambulance back in service.

For those who want to save the cost of commercially available disinfecting solutions, West said bleach at a dilution ratio of a quarter cup to one gallon works great.

When it comes to protecting one's self, West said that "good old soap and water" works wonders when combined with standard universal protections.

West said she hopes that EMS providers will become more comfortable with their jobs through education and not be in fear of contracting terrible, fatal diseases from work, or be worried about brining something horrible home to their families.

That all starts with education from commanders to street level providers, she said.

"Falling into blind acceptance just doesn't cut it," West said. "You need to go out, do the research, and check things out for yourself."