Facility-acquired infections are a big problem in healthcare circles, and preventing them is an issue that looms large for healthcare facilities – and not just for larger hospitals and nursing facilities. Small medical offices, clinics and other outpatient facilities must also be on guard against facility-acquired infections.
According to the CDC, taking measures to prevent these infections in outpatient settings is becoming a more pressing concern due to healthcare delivery shifting increasingly from hospitals to outpatient settings, along with ongoing outbreaks and patient notification events. Because it is entirely possible to contract facility-acquired infections from mis-handled medical waste, good waste disposal procedures are a crucial component of any solid infection control plan.
About the risk of facility-acquired infections from medical waste
If you are an office manager or administrator of a medical office or clinic, you are sure to be aware of the importance of infection control for preventing the spread of facility-acquired infections between staff and patients. Employees will be trained, as required by OSHA, on how to minimize risk as they work with patients. But are you as aware of the risks of transmitting facility-acquired infections via medical waste?
The same pathogens, whether they are bacteria or viruses, that create risk for clinical workers and patients in exam rooms can often remain active and infectious in medical waste. This creates a risk of infection for many employees who have no contact with patients, like janitorial staff who clean patient care areas, for instance, or administrative employees who oversee or participate in the medical waste management process. This, in turn, increases risk of infections being passed around to other employees, as well as to your patients.
Those very real risks are the reason that there are so many state and federal regulations and guidelines on how potentially infectious medical waste must be handled. They are also the reason that good medical waste disposal procedures are essential to reducing risk of facility-acquired infections becoming a problem for your practice or clinic.
Reducing risk with good waste disposal procedures
Putting clear, written policies in place for the collection and handling of potentially infectious medical waste that are compliant with state and federal regulations can go a long ways towards reducing risk of facility-acquired infections. Important points to cover in those policies to help prevent transmission of facility-acquired infections from medical waste include:
Rules for the proper segregation of sharps and other biohazardous medical waste at the point of use
Rules on proper packaging, labeling and storage of potentially infectious medical waste
Policies on the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling medical waste
Policies on necessary hygiene procedures after contact with medical waste, careful hand-washing after glove removal, for instance
Policies on proper cleaning and sanitation of equipment used in the collection, handling and storage of biohazardous waste
Once you have clear policies in place, it is important to educate all employees who may come into contact with infectious waste on those policies. New hires should receive training on your policies as part of employee orientation, and existing employees should be required to undergo training at least once a year to ensure that they remain well-versed in the details of your safe waste handling policies. Not only is this an important step in reducing risk of facility-acquired infections, it is also important to ensuring that your facility remains in compliance with all those regulations on medical waste management.
Finally, there must be consistent enforcement of those policies. Clear consequences for violating waste handling policies should be in place to ensure that those policies are taken seriously, and those consequences should be applied to all employees equally. These may range from mandating additional training for employees who accidentally violate those policies, to suspension or dismissal for workers who repeatedly fail to follow waste handling rules.