Look what’s on your keyboard

June 9, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

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Where do you find the most germs in hospital? In the bathrooms? The waiting room? Actually, they’re on the computer keyboard of the emergency room. The Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit conducted a study to determine the most bacteria-infested part of their institution and was surprised at the results. However, don’t panic. Most of the contamination was detected in the non-treatment areas of the ER such as the triage and the registration desk. The reasons for dirty keyboards in these areas are obvious.

  • This is where personnel are less likely to wash their hands frequently as they seldom have direct treatment contact with the patients.
  • However, this is also the place where papers and documents from the outside enter the hospital.
  • Finally, because these are non-treatment areas, disinfection of equipment, including the keyboard is not routinely and thoroughly done as it is practice in treatment rooms.

However, just because bacteria are found in non-treatment areas does not mean that this problem can be ignored. Any form of contamination in hospitals presents health risks. Nosocomial or hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are more common and harmful than we think. According to Medscape:

The National Nosocomial Infections Surveillance (NNIS) System of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) performed a survey from October 1986 to April 1998. They ranked hospital wards according to their association with central-line bloodstream infections. The highest rates of infection occurred in the burn ICU, the neonatal ICU, and the pediatric ICU.

Nosocomial infections are estimated to occur in 5% of all acute-care hospitalizations; the incidence rate is 5 infections per 1,000 patient-days. Based on the 35 million patients admitted to 7,000 acute-care institutions in the United States, the incidence of HAIs is more than 2 million cases per year.2 HAIs result in an additional 26,250 deaths (range 17,500-70,000) and an added expenditure in excess of $4.5 billion.

So what can be done about the keyboard contamination? The Henry Ford Hospital is looking at different measures to address this problem, namely

  • Implement more frequent cleaning and disinfection
  • Implement better hygiene practice (e.g. frequent handwashing) among keyboard users
  • Replace standard keyboards with washable rubber keyboards

Finally, for us who use computers every day, we should be aware that keyboard contamination can occur not only in a hospital but also in the working place as well as at home. We should think about disinfecting our keyboards from time to time.

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