Preventing Infections in the Hospital: Steps for Hospital Staff and Patients
You have been admitted to the hospital for care. Your illness or procedures may put you at an increased risk of further illness or infection while at the hospital. Rest assured that the hospital staff has standards in place to ensure that your stay is a safe one.
Hospitals follow safety and quality measures that are set by government organizations, researchers, and expert panels. These measures require hospitals to adopt safety techniques and procedures, report on how well they are implementing these procedures, and regularly train hospital staff. Here are some measures that the hospital staff will take to prevent unnecessary problems during your hospital stay.
Clean Barrier Steps
An infection can pass to you through surfaces or be carried from patient to patient by healthcare workers. This can lead to an illness that has nothing to do with your original reason for going to the hospital. For most, the best step to protect against infection is hand washing. Your hospital may have alcohol-based cleansers available near the entrance of your room or a sink with soap in your room.
- Make sure you or anyone who has contact with you washes their hands and washes them often. This includes your family or friends and any hospital staff.
- Good hand washing by hospital staff is one of the most important aspects of infection prevention. If you do not see hospital staff, including your doctor, washing their hands, remind them to do so before coming in contact with you.
- If the staff says they washed their hands before coming into your room, feel free to speak up and ask them to wash their hands again in front of you.
- If you have a roommate, the staff should wash their hands when alternating between you and your roommate.
- If you are unable to communicate, your family members or friends should feel free to ask staff to wash their hands before coming in contact with you.
The staff’s goal is to help you stay healthy. A reminder to wash their hands can help them do that.
If there are any specific prevention steps needed in your care, the hospital will post special instructions by your room. Instructions may include wearing a mask, gloves, or special gown. Again, feel free to remind medical staff to follow the posted instructions if they are not doing so. If you are concerned about a technique to prevent infection, speak up. Ask your doctor about how they will prevent infection.
The hospital does the following to help prevent infection:
- Has a specially trained and dedicated infection control staff
- Regularly educates all staff on infection control measures
- Vaccinates and treats personnel for exposure to infection
Staff should also wear gloves if they are removing fluids, touching a wound, or examining your mouth or private parts. Many hospitals also have a program to identify patients who harbor dangerous bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant staph infection (MRSA).
There are other steps you can take to lower your risk of infection. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, can increase your risk of infection. Consider these good habits and lifestyle changes:
- Use tissues, or cough and sneeze into the bend of your elbow.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthful diet and participate in regular physical activity.
- If you have diabetes, keep blood sugar levels under control.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit smoking.
Tell your care staff right away if you have any signs of an infection. This can include redness, swelling, pain, or fevers and chills.
You and the hospital staff are working jointly to help you get better. If you feel that steps were not taken to keep you safe, you are encouraged to report it to the hospital. Reporting your concerns will help improve your safety and the safety of others. The staff will explain the steps for reporting concerns when you check in to the hospital or soon after. If you are not given the information, feel free to ask for it.
Together, you and your healthcare team can ensure that your hospital stay is a safe one.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Infectious Diseases Society of America
Infection Prevention and Control Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
2017 National patient safety goals. The Joint Commission website. Available at: http://www.jointcommission.org/standards_information/npsgs.aspx. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Hand hygiene in healthcare settings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene. Updated March 24, 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Healthcare-associated infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hai. Updated March 4, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2017.
The infection prevention and HAI portal. The Joint Commission website. Available at: http://www.jointcommission.org/hai.aspx. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Surgical site infection—prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T316886/Surgical-site-infection-prevention. Updated February 7, 2017. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 11/4/2015