Infection Preventionists: Innovative Approach to Age-Old Problem

By Michael Anne Preas, RN, BSN, CIC
Infection Prevention and Control

Editor’s Note: A December Associated Press article on infection preventionists, which focused on the University of Maryland Medical Center, received widespread coverage. In the Q&A below, Michael Anne Preas (pictured at right with UMMC’s infection prevention and control team), one of UMMC’s infection preventionists, provides more information on what she and her colleagues are doing to keep our patients safe, and steps you can take to reduce your infection risk.

What is an infection preventionist?

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, I am one of 4 preventionists (IPs) who each have areas of responsibility throughout the hospital to keep hospital-acquired infections to a minimum. We partner with the front-line staff — nurses, physicians, patient care technicians, environmental services staff and others — to ensure that every aspect of a patient’s experience in the hospital is as safe as possible.

Each IP is paired with a hospital epidemiologist — a physician trained in the study of how diseases are transmitted. This pairing offers a unique opportunity to have a hands-on influence to infection prevention partnered with a scientific expert to address complex healthcare-associated infection issues.

Although we each cover a specific area and provide education, we rely on a close partnership with the front line nursing staff and physicians to ensure that the best infection prevention measures are followed.

What do we do?

• Teach best practices to reduce infection risk to patients and staff.
• Set goals for reductions in infection rates within the hospital.
• Collect and report infection data both publicly and internally.
• Collaborate with public health officials when there are outbreaks.

What do our healthcare workers do to reduce the patient’s infection risk while in the healthcare setting?

• Wash hands frequently, always before and after patient encounters.
• Let patients and families know what they can do to prevent infections.
• Let the patient know that it is OK for them to ask anyone who has contact with the patient to “please clean your hands.”
• Manage indwelling catheters safely — this means “scrubbing the hub” or wiping the IV catheter hub with a disinfectant such as an alcohol wipe before giving intravenous medications.
• Collaborate to remove invasive devices such as urinary drainage catheters, central venous catheters, and ventilator tubes as soon as they are determined to be unnecessary for patient care.

What can hospital visitors and patients do to reduce their infection risk while in the hospital?

• Be informed about your treatment plan. Ask questions like: How long do I need this catheter or urinary drainage device?
• Remember that all staff should clean their HANDS frequently and often and always before having contact with you or your loved one. And it is OK for you to ask!
• The most important principle of infection prevention we have all learned in kindergarten: WASH YOUR HANDS!

2 thoughts on “Infection Preventionists: Innovative Approach to Age-Old Problem

  1. Hand washing policy is a must in reputable healthcare institutions. For instance, if a hospital is opting to be accredited for JCI, hand washing serves as a base for the institution’s infection control effort.

  2. Great post. When I read about hospitals showing concern – and actually doing something – to prevent infections, I applaud. I work with such facilities to resolve problems with pathogenic bacteria, and I am always grateful for their efforts. Keep up the good work.

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