When Covid-19, the first pandemic to strike the entire planet in a century, arrived in March 2020, the entire globe was taken off guard. Despite this, some people knew it was coming because of all the close calls with deadly diseases like H1N1, Zika, and avian flu in the decades before.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, infection preventionists (IPs) are specialists who ensure that patients and healthcare personnel are taking the proper precautions to avoid infections. Or, to use a sports example, when it comes to guarding against infections in hospital settings, they serve as both the offensive and defensive coach.
They are the only specialists in healthcare that focus on infection prevention, and they have received specific training and certification through earning their Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC). IPs have a variety of educational and professional backgrounds, including those in nursing, public health, epidemiology, microbiology, laboratory studies, medical technology, information technology, and allied health professions. They work together across the entire facility to design policies and procedures, coordinate with regional and national public health authorities, and identify illness patterns by gathering infection data, observing practises, teaching healthcare teams, and providing advice to healthcare leaders.
IPs were crucial to the emergency preparedness and incident command teams in healthcare facilities across the U.S. because of their special training and expertise in the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the Covid pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons, infection preventionists across the country are a reliable and trustworthy source of advice as we look to the future. Monkeypox serves as a reminder that Covid-19 is not an isolated incidence, along with other raging diseases like dengue, Ebola, measles, and cholera. The U.S. would be wise to pay attention to the opinions and advice of our IPs as a whole.
Here are four suggestions for hospital administrators as they think about making plans for upcoming epidemics.
1. Make sure emergency response plans are established and routinely tested.
Healthcare organisations learned from Covid-19 that they must maintain a high degree of readiness to be sufficiently ready for outbreaks in the future. Organizations have had emergency response plans in the past, but they were frequently not tested, maintained, or resourced. Leaders in the healthcare industry must not only support the development of emergency response plans, but also make sure that sufficient funding is set aside to properly train workers and test such plans on a regular basis.
Leaders must also analyse the information obtained from these tests to pinpoint areas for improvement and spot opportunities. We must also make sure that the response plan enables healthcare organisations to not just respond to new and emerging infections, as Covid-19 showed us, but also to keep patients safe from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).
2. Make sure the emergency response team has the right talent.
Planning for outbreaks must include ensuring that emergency response teams have the necessary skills and expertise to represent the roles of the healthcare facility. Leaders in healthcare must make sure that these teams include IPs and epidemiologists.
In short, IPs in your company are skilled at gathering information on newly emerging infectious diseases, analysing what is happening, identifying trends and problems as they arise, and offering professional advice on how to address problems before they grow into broader organisational concerns.
3. Invest in surveillance equipment and personnel.
According to Lee et al., “the continual, systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of data regarding a health-related event for use in public health action to reduce morbidity and mortality and to enhance health” is what surveillance in public health is described as.
The Covid-19 outbreak presented healthcare organisations with a number of difficulties, including personnel shortages and limited surveillance capabilities. Even though electronic medical records are a crucial component of surveillance, there are other technologies that can integrate EMR data with data from other sources to deliver information almost instantly. As a result, healthcare institutions are better able to identify developing illness trends and issue notifications as necessary. This allows organizations to quickly create interventions to mitigate and contain outbreaks. Coupled with these improved technological capabilities, healthcare organizations must invest in trained professionals who understand epidemiology and surveillance.
4. Spend money on IPC workers
Ensuring that healthcare institutions have enough infection prevention and control (IPC) capacity is essential for planning for upcoming outbreaks. Epidemiologists and infection preventionists are crucial allies in the effort to stop future outbreaks, and their contributions should be acknowledged throughout the company.
Leaders in the healthcare industry should push for more IPC staffing to support preventative efforts. Leaders might consider putting new internship programmes into place to “home develop” IPs from other professions in this competitive labour market. To ensure the continuity of safe patient care while reacting to an infectious disease emergency, such as a pandemic, healthcare facilities must make sure they have adequate IPs.
The worldwide Covid-19 outbreak came as a surprise to many of us. Not for those who work in infection control. Healthcare leaders can profit from the profound knowledge and advice of infection preventionists, regardless of the sort of healthcare environment they are in. As you attempt to strengthen your organization’s readiness and defences against upcoming outbreaks, take into consideration talking about these action items with your IP.