Con(fused)tact precautions

Whilst “festivus”1 is generally a happy time for most of us, unfortunately people still become unwell, and our hospital beds remain occupied. One of the beds in a large Australian acute care facility has accommodated a family friend who has undergone surgery and some moderate rehab after falling at home.

Given some predisposing conditions, the family friend was at risk of acquiring a HAI, and it is disappointing to report they required treatment for various types of HAIs. They were also found to have VRE, and were promptly placed into a single room, under Contact Precautions.

Puzzled Confused Lost Signpost Showing Puzzling Problem

Whilst this family has much to be sorry and concerned about, what concerns them greatly, and what they have found most upsetting, is the inconsistent information and advice they receive on a daily basis from healthcare workers on the specific precautions that they, as family visitors, must take. Gloves, no gloves, mask, no mask, cloth gown, plastic apron… they have had almost every combination of precautions recommended. They  have even been scolded by a HCW for wearing “inappropriate” attire, whilst all the time directly observing a broad array of PPE adopted by different HCWs as they enter the room. They feel confused, angry, and upset. They lack confidence in the HCW knowledge of what is required, and feel powerless in seeking clarification of what they should be doing.

I find this troubling on several fronts. First, inconsistency. If HCWs caring for patients with MROs are giving family visitors different messages on PPE, then chances are they don’t quite understand what is required to prevent spread (evident by HCW inconsistency in their own PPE). Second, why are family visitors made to feel as though they have endangered the lives of not only their relative, but also of every other patient in the hospital when they are simply doing as they are told. And third, I don’t suspect for one minute that this situation is unique to this ward, hospital, city, or country. This scenario will likely be repeated daily in all types of facilities (see also NOTE below).

As we know, HAI prevention requires multiple interventions all being applied correctly. Whilst the momentum of antimicrobial stewardship in the fight against AMR has rightly attracted much energy, and the importance of environment is emerging , a basic understanding of precautions, and consistency of PPE messaging for HCWS and visitors is surely a simple and measureable intervention we should not lose sight of.

Phil

  1. Seinfeld 1997 – Episode 10, Season 9.

NOTE – this may be due to a lack of robust evidence and debate about Contact Precautions (see here for an example), nevertheless, messages (policy) within a facility should surely be consistent.

 

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