According to various bacteria and infection control studies, surface organisms too small to be detected by the naked eye can still be harmful to a persons health. Every year, the unseen “bad bugs” (microorganisms) left on improperly cleaned surfaces adversely effect patients, leading to extended hospital stays — driving up the cost of medical care — and even death.

For those that wonder why hospitals aren’t as clean as they possibly should be, consider the fact that cruise ships and restaurants are routinely inspected by health departments for cleanliness. And for many years, food processing plants have used hand-held devices that measure or quantify the soil left on food preparation surfaces.

Hospitals are not subjected to the same inspections and, therefor, are not quantifying the effectiveness of their cleaning processes. But, there are organizations that are working to help health care facilities promote sanitization and proper infection control.

Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge health care workers to wash or sanitize their hands before and after touching a patient, or before and after gloving. They even encourage patients to insist that hospital workers perform hand hygiene in their presence to make sure it’s being done.

And although hand hygiene is a great habit to get into, it isn’t always enough. If hospitals aren’t cleaned properly, the hands of doctors and nurses will quickly become contaminated when they touch a bed rail, open the door to a supply cabinet or type on a computer keyboard.

Focus on Hygiene Professionals

The time has come to turn traditional cleaning professionals into hygiene professionals. Moreover, infection prevention will only become a reality when these hygiene professionals are properly regarded, educated and equipped.

A hygiene professional must be: well trained; equipped with the necessary tools to clean, sanitize and disinfect; allotted time to do the necessary tasks; provided the tools to enable scientific measurement; and educated about the prevention and transmission of disease.

Remember, also, that infection prevention doesn’t rely solely on the hygiene professional. Infection prevention must be a partnership and joint effort between the cleaning staff, patient, nursing staff, doctors and anyone else who enters a patient room.

For example, in addition to scheduled cleaning, the environment should be maintained throughout the day by using disinfectant wipes to clean common touch-points, removing spills immediately, posting signs and verbally reminding workers to wash their hands. Because nurses enter patient rooms most frequently, asking them to assist in this process will help in reducing surface-mediated transmission of disease.

Additional Disinfection Information

Prior to purchasing, hygiene professionals are advised to review disinfectants, their effectiveness and how to control selected microorganisms. Knowing the who, what, when, where, why and how of various disinfectants will result in proper selection and execution. These five W’s and H of disinfection are outlined in a three-part online series titled, “Disinfectants: What’s in Your Bucket?” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Additional information on proper disinfection and product selection is also outlined in the book, “Infection Prevention for Dummies.” It lists proper cleaning techniques, proper disinfection selection, and explanations of sanitizer and disinfectant labels and product claims.

Darrel Hicks is the author of "Infection Control for Dummies" and is recognized as one of the top experts on infection control issues.