Mobile devices and handheld computers have made healthcare much more efficient in the past few years. It wasn’t that long ago that hospitals relied entirely on paper-based methods for recording, sharing and reporting data. Now, with the advent of EMRs, mobile devices are providing unprecedented access to patient data and providing secure channels for instant peer collaboration. But are they also presenting a new threat to patient health when it comes to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Mobile devices spend a lot of time in hands, near faces and in warm, dark pockets, which makes them prime candidates to harbor potentially harmful bacteria, including strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like carbapenem-resistant enterobacteria (CAE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE).
Roughly two million patients in U.S. hospitals fall victim to infections from these “superbugs” each year, and these infections can be extremely difficult and costly to treat. According to the CDC, the chance of an HAI caused by one of these superbugs in a short-term acute care hospital is 1 in 7, and it’s 1 in 4 in a long-term acute care facility.
So, how much of a threat do mobile devices and phones present? Studies have shown that more than 70% of healthcare workers’ phones are contaminated by various types of bacteria, with 17% carrying bacteria known to cause nosocomial infections. And the mobile phones that patients and visitors bring in are actually twice as like to contain potentially dangerous bacteria as those of healthcare workers.
Hospital infection control practices include the cleaning and disinfection of mobile healthcare equipment (e.g., wheelchairs) that comes in contact with staff, patients and visitors. And many hospitals are now starting to look at including recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting mobile computing devices and phones, but the practice is not standardized yet.
This also raises the question of durability. Can consumer-level devices withstand repeated exposure to industry-approved cleaning and disinfecting agents? And it’s a safe bet most consumers don’t know the ingress protection (IP) rating of the phone in their pocket right now.
Our new white paper examines some commonly held misperceptions about mobile devices and the potential risks of infectious diseases. The paper is authored by Darrel Hicks, a nationally recognized expert in infection control and author of numerous articles in professional and healthcare-related journals.