Personal Cell Phones on the Nursing Unit Can Impact Infection Control Programs

Cleveland Clinic encourages daily device cleaning

From patient rooms to nursing stations and beyond, Cleveland Clinic nursing caregivers strive to maintain an exceptionally clean patient care environment. Cleanliness in healthcare is certainly something that all caregivers should be keenly aware of and consider a primary responsibility – especially as it relates to infection prevention.

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Throughout the U.S. health system, healthcare administrators, regulatory control organizations, nurses and clinicians maintain constant vigilance over infection control programs to address imperative items like hand hygiene, standards for line, drain, and tube insertion and maintenance, and general nosocomial infection rates.

Across the healthcare industry, there are a number of measures in place aimed at reducing preventable harm and improving patient safety. And, if these measures aren’t met, hospitals are certain to feel the associated implications. For example, as stated in a 2013 edition of Medicare & Medicaid Research Review, in October 2008, reimbursement stopped for certain hospital-acquired infections following provisions in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

Additionally, in 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services went even further with the release of the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program. The program defines hospital-acquired conditions as a group of reasonably preventable conditions that patients did not have upon hospital admission, but rather developed during a patient’s stay. The program is rated based on a hospital’s total hospital-acquired condition score and requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to reduce payments to hospitals that rank in the lowest performing quartile.

Think twice about personal mobile devices in the workplace

In terms of individual cleanliness in and out of the clinical work environment, nursing caregivers are commonly aware of the potential for germ transmission from clothing, shoes and personal medical equipment, such as stethoscopes. Often, nurses take precaution by wiping down their supplies or changing clothing between home and work. But, do they consider their cell phones in this routine?

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Even with the ample awareness that nurses and other caregivers have regarding our potential to be a source of infection, almost every one of us carries a host of possible infection-causing germs in our pockets on a daily basis. Cellular phones. Statistics note that a personal cell phone is the device most often touched in one day as compared to any other personal item. And they are covered in germs.

The potential for patient infection from personal mobile phones

Unfortunately, many nurses and other caregivers don’t often think about their personal cell phones and other everyday mobile devices in terms of infection control. They don’t consider all the places they put them, how much time has passed since they last cleaned them, or how many different items they may have touched either before or after they picked up their phone.

One microbiologist, Chuck Gerba, who has studied this phenomenon, noted that a cellular phone is often referred to as a petri-dish of germs because of the thousands of microorganisms that love to breed in warm dark places like a pocket or purse as well as a person’s hands, or on a device itself because of the heat it generates. Gerba notes that a person’s hands and face can spread staph bacteria, which can cause everything from skin infections to meningitis – the very infections that caregivers spend constant effort to avoid. In fact, in a study he conducted, Gerba found staph growing on nearly half of the devices he randomly tested.

Additionally, a 2008 Stanford University study found that cell phones have 18 times more bacteria on them than a toilet handle in a men’s public restroom. Imagine the horror that any conscientious nurse or clinician would feel if they answered a quick text from home, then carried a staph bug into a patient’s room on their otherwise clean hands.

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Steps to actively prevent infection from personal mobile devices

There is no doubt that cellular devices play a crucial role in our daily lives. Most of us can’t live without them, but with greater awareness and cleaning diligence, we can help eliminate the easy transmission of germs between phones and patients.

At Cleveland Clinic, we aim to remind our nurses and other caregivers to take time at least once each day to wipe down personal devices to remove any visible fingerprints with a damp cloth. Cotton swabs can be used to tackle hard-to-reach places that may be housing additional dirt and germs.

There are many different types of antibacterial and cleaning wipes that have been designed specifically for routine cleaning of personal electronic devices. We encourage our nursing caregivers to use these wipes regularly and, although it may be difficult, when possible, nurses should avoid bringing personal devices into clinical workspaces altogether to help minimize the spread of infection.