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Shift to Glass: Healthcare’s Commitment to Cleanliness

According to the World Health Organization, the data on patient-care activities and their likelihood to transmit bacteria from a healthcare worker to a patient provide few definitive conclusions. Studies have shown, however, that employees at all levels and in all realms of the healthcare industry face a pervasive risk of hand contamination that extends well beyond expected, high-risk activities like wound care or the handling of patient secretions. HCWs (health care workers) can pick up bacteria by touching any contaminated surfaces in the patient environment, such as a contaminated chart at the nurses’ station, or the plastic whiteboard in the patients’ quarters.

The simple solution, it seems, would be to wash hands both before and after patient contact. The solution is not so simple, however. “The issue is that you have to practice [hand hygiene] at a high level of compliance for it to work,” says Michael Edmond MD, MPH, professor of internal medicine in the infectious disease division at Virginia Commonwealth University. “There are so many opportunities for hand hygiene, and it is difficult to get to a level of compliance where we’re able to make changes to infection rates.”

Given the limitations of hand hygiene, reducing the rate of infection through hand contamination will require a multi-tiered approach that supplements hand hygiene with environmental changes. One effective strategy for improvement involves the increased use of contaminant-resistant materials, particularly in those areas where the nature and intensity of work presents increased risk of contamination. While a full-scale overhaul of the materials employed in hospital instruments and care environments would obviously require unrealistic burdens of cost, hospitals can achieve meaningful reductions in contamination risk through cost-efficient changes in sites that represent a conspicuous hazard for healthcare workers.

Whiteboards, for example, represent sites of heightened volatility where simple, cost-efficient changes can effect meaningful reductions in the environmental risks of contamination. Due to their increased use as communication aids—most commonly in support of patient-centered care initiatives—whiteboards have emerged as high-traffic intersections of manual activity for patients, families, friends, and full spectrum of caregivers. By design, whiteboards function as contact zones for the secondhand convergence, exchange and transfer of contaminants through touch.

Constructed of porous materials like melamine, aluminum, and porcelain, whiteboard surfaces provide no anti-bacterial protection and in fact possess a potentially higher propensity for contamination. For scientists, the adhesive properties of plastic surfaces—including those same plastics employed in the manufacture of whiteboard-displays—have emerged as the suspect focus of research into the contaminant-proclivity of manufacturing materials. Scientists no longer ask whether bacteria or toxic substances migrate from plastic surfaces; research now focuses on the intensity and degree of plastic’s contaminability. Recent research raises questions regarding the safety of plastic and acrylic items used in everyday life—particularly in regards to their safety for children, the ill, and the elderly.

Compounding concerns over the role of plastics as agents of contamination transfer, the CDC recently released data that shows 1-in-25 patients acquire a healthcare-related infection during their hospital stay. The statistic translates into about 722,000 infections per year—an estimated 75,000 of which result in patient mortality. With hand hygiene demonstrably critical to safe patient care, and traditional whiteboard surfaces an integral, if overlooked, factor in hand hygiene, reduction in contaminant-prone materials could well represent an emergent, industry-wide agenda in hospital-facility management.

The relative functionality and (short-term) success of whiteboards evidence their utility as aids to patient-centered communication: The very status of the whiteboard as a conspicuous site of contaminant exchange highlights their status as both utility and safety hazard. Studies demonstrate the importance of whiteboards as an aid to the communication of information essential to vital aspects of quality care: Medication schedules, instructions, patient concerns, emotional well-being, and the overall bond between patients and healthcare workers.

Whiteboards represent both a benefit and hazard to quality healthcare. While whiteboards enhance communication, they also increase the risk of contamination. Replacing whiteboards with Clarus Healthboards, hospitals can reconcile the cost-benefit contradictions of dry-erase technology. While the plastics employed in whiteboard displays carry increased risk of contamination, Clarus glass eliminates the porosity problems that serve to harbor deposits of contaminated materials and increase bacterial adhesion. Whiteboards also require specialized cleaners and sprays derived from chemicals that contain toxic agents. Glass Healthboards, on the other hand, do not require specialized cleaners that restrict the use of non-toxic and organic alternatives. And the ability to employ a variety of cleaning agents represents a critical point of efficiency for healthcare facilities that must employ a range of nuanced practices in the cleaning and care of complex facilities and equipment.

As the statistics demonstrate, effective hand hygiene does not always represent a realistic and thus effective means of contaminant control. Easy to clean and sanitize, Clarus Healthboard displays offer the antimicrobial properties of high-quality, non-porous glass surfaces. Despite their short-term value, in the long run whiteboards do little more than transform the vital healthcare imperatives of communication and hygiene into contrary goals. The route to whiteboard usage leads to a dangerous dead end. For healthcare providers, replacing whiteboards with Clarus™ Glass Healthboards represents the alternative highway to progress toward optimal communication and hygienic practice.