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Infection Control Corner: significant improvement requires responsive change

October 11, 2016
Infection Control
From the October 2016 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Thom Wellington

“Change before you have to” is a famous quote attributed to Jack Welch, the former head of General Electric who was known for his aggressive and successful management style. Change doesn’t just benefit industrial companies. Everyone benefits from change. Similarly, health care is constantly undergoing significant change to meet government standards, lower infection rates and improve patient care. Changes within the health care field demonstrate tremendous advantages of operating more effectively and successfully.

However, gaining acceptance among staff is sometimes both difficult and frustrating. When convincing health care staff to change habits and increase frequency of washing hands, they may understand the importance, but fail to implement new procedures. It is the responsibility of the health care system to constantly educate every staff and vendor employee on the importance of abiding by any changes, especially since lives could be at stake.

Some examples of positive changes in health care systems that reduce infections include placing hand wash stations at every door and even physically moving sinks. Some facilities have incorporated alarms in ID badges to alert employees when they pass a sink and don’t stop to wash their hands. A recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that putting small LED warning lights on a hand-washing station near the entrance to a hospital facility greatly increased the number of visitors stopping as they entered to disinfect their hands.

Unfortunately, flashing lights or alarms cannot be put on everything in health care settings for people to pay attention. However, progress is being made with reducing Health care-Associated Infections (HAIs). HAIs are considered mostly preventable incidents and require changes in behavior. Health care program reforms have focused greater emphasis on reducing infections. Actions taken under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), along with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), including the elimination of hospital reimbursement for HAIs, have indirectly improved outcomes. Annual patient deaths from HAIs have fallen drastically from nearly 100,000 to 75,000. More progress is needed, but change is producing results.

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. — Albert Einstein

While all change does not lead to improvement, all improvement requires change. The ability to develop, test and implement change is essential in health care to allow for improvement. The process is simple: First, ask what the goal is, what are you trying to accomplish? Second, how will you know that a change is an improvement? Finally, what change can be made that will result in improvement?

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