Post-Pandemic: Revisiting IPC Programs at Senior Care Facilities
Post-pandemic, most senior care facilities in the United States are considering what COVID-19 specific Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) precautions to keep and how to harden their programs to protect against known pathogens and plan for unknown ones. During this process, forward-thinking operators should consider the role of new digital tools to help implement, track, and train staff on the next generation of their IPC programs; which include the following goals:
- Provide a sanitary and comfortable environment
- Prevent the development and transmission of communicable disease and infections
- Provide education to residents, healthcare workers, visitors, and others in the environment
- Assisting to prioritize, obtain, and steward resources
Let’s discuss a few specific areas where digital tools have an outsized impact on the quality of an IPC program:
IPC Program Owners: Planning For a Dynamic Environment
Argentum, a prominent national association dedicated to the support of companies operating senior living communities, recently released their new 35-page Guidance for Infection and Prevention Control. The CDC has updated recommendations in response to the COVID-19 vaccination. And most states have issued several changes to their rules and regulations.
The Digital Takeaway:
IPC program guidelines are evolving and changing. It is incumbent upon senior care leadership to construct a system and process to respond to change rapidly. A digital information distribution system provides the ability for IPC program owners to make those updates instantly to management and staff.
Clearly Defining IPC Resident & Employee Health Practices
Every senior care facility has IPC practices in place. They constitute specific guidelines for the following areas:
- Hand Hygiene
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Respiratory Cough Etiquette
- Safe Injection
- Disposal of Biohazardous Materials
- Cleaning and Disinfection
- Cohorting of Residents
- Contact Tracing
These areas should contain precise, ordered, and contextually relevant instruction sets for experienced and inexperienced staff – on busy days, even well-trained staff members can overlook essential details if they don’t receive occasional reminders.
And it must go beyond general statements. For example, it is not enough to call for proper cleaning and sterilization or disinfection of reusable equipment to prevent nosocomial pneumonia – exact instructions for the make and model of the equipment should exist.
The Digital Takeaway:
Long-form paper documents are an outdated way to define and communicate IPC practices. Digital tools can help disaggregate these hundreds of processes into digital workflows and checklists available to staff.
And workflows and checklists are not just for the inexperienced. There is ample evidence that checklists improve the performance of even highly skilled and experienced professionals – think of airline pilots. Atul Gawande, the author of the seminal book “The Checklist Manifesto” himself, is a surgeon and public health researcher.
When combined with field-friendly mobile and tablet formats, digitization gives staff access to an entire ordered library of IPC instruction sets at their fingertips.
IPC Education & Training
Training and education (upfront and continuous learning) on both the subject matter and the organization’s standard practices are essential and necessary to the success of an IPC program – especially in an environment of high staff turnover.
Consider the enormous amount of information to process during these training sessions. According to this article in Training Industry Magazine, as much as 90 percent of information is forgotten within 30 days, and 70 percent of that loss happens within one day. Relying on training alone is a risk. What new workers face is not a “learning curve” but a continuous cycle of learning and forgetting until mastery sets in.
Let’s explore an example: there are at least 16 different infectious pathogens common to senior care facilities – and they all require knowledge and various mitigation strategies for each.
The ability to store and recall this dense technical information is a challenge for even the most dedicated and prepared senior care professional, let alone new staff. A “bridge” between training and doing would help.
The Digital Takeaway:
- What if there was a digital system to assist in training staff members?
- A way for new employees to find easily find answers when uncertain about a procedure?
- A system that would offer prompts to make sure staff members complete essential IPC tasks?
These systems can help close the skills gap and ensure consistency of practices across all experience levels.
LIST OF PATHOGENS
IPC Monitoring, Investigation, & Data Collection
Let’s assume your organization has adequately defined and communicated IPC protocols, and all staff is uniformly informed and knowledgeable. Compliance monitoring and issue tracking are some of the remaining challenges.
A transparent system should be in place to collect data, review processes and efficiency, and evaluate outcomes.
Internally, this information should help monitor the level of day-to-day compliance to manage risk and provide corrective action. Externally this information is recorded and reported to authorities, including:
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
- Health and Human Services (HHS)
- State regulatory
- Local authorities, such as the health department
The Digital Takeaway:
Digital work management – via workflows, checklists, and data collection forms – is a valuable tool for recording and reporting against IPC progress.
Whether it is day-to-day prevention activities or driven by an incident or issue, recording progress and data make the information transparent and available for internal and external stakeholders.
Impact of Digital Management for IPC Programs
Digitization of frontline operations has a great impact on how senior care facilities manage IPC programs:
- Train staff members in proper protocols to prevent and contain the spread of infection and communicable diseases.
- Setting workplace prompts to ensure completion and documentation of periodic tasks that support a clean, sanitized, disease-free environment.
- Support facility maintenance staff by offering reminders of checks necessary for maintaining equipment in optimal condition to promote a healthy and safe environment.
- Provide remote IoT sensors to monitor air quality.
- Update staff on new developments and resulting changes in procedures. This has been an issue at many workplaces as COVID-19 community status alters regulations.