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Patient Safety: Minimizing Infections

Germs and bacteria are everywhere—at home, at work and in the hospital. Certain types cause infectious diseases, like the flu or pneumonia, can interfere with medical care and even be fatal in high-risk patients. Below you'll find some of the many ways staff, patients and visitors can help prevent the spread of the germs and bacteria that cause these infections.

Maintain Hand Hygiene

Keeping our hands clean is an important way to prevent the spread of infection. "Hand hygiene" is a term that applies to the way we clean our hands either by washing them with soap and water or using antibacterial hand sanitizers. Good hand hygiene is an important and effective way to prevent germs being spread in the hospital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare-associated infections are responsible for approximately 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year.

At Yale-New Haven Hospital, we work hard to make sure every person in our facilities uses good hand hygiene. We make sure that sinks, soaps and alcohol-based sanitizers are readily available throughout the hospital for patients, staff and visitors. We carefully watch and audit hand hygiene performance, and the information is used to make improvements.

Your nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers - as well as your family members and visitors - should always wash their hands before they touch you. Feel free to remind them each time.

You should also wash your hands, especially:

  • before eating
  • before and after preparing food
  • before taking medications
  • before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • before entering and after leaving another patient's room
  • after using the bathroom
  • after blowing your nose
  • after coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • after handling garbage
  • after touching animals or animal waste
  • after getting any visible soil on hands
  • anytime you enter a public restroom

The proper way to wash your hands is to:

  • Wet hands with running water and apply soap
  • Rub hands together for approximately 15-20 seconds, paying close attention to your fingers and fingernails
  • Rinse soap off hand, dry with a clean towel
  • Use towel to turn off the faucet

If hands are not visibly dirty, hand disinfectants may be used in place of soap and water. Some "waterless" hand sanitizers don't contain alcohol and should be avoided. Instead, use only alcohol-based products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider for assistance if necessary. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Ensure that your hands are not visibly soiled (if visibly soiled, use soap and water).
  • Apply a dime-sized quantity of product to the palm of your hand
  • Rub hands together, reaching all surfaces of the hands
  • Continue rubbing until all surfaces are dry.

For more information on hand hygiene, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Remember Cough & Sneeze Etiquette

Many diseases are spread through coughing or sneezing. In fact, some germs can travel up to 3-6 feet!

For this reason, we ask you to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing—and to remind staff and visitors to do the same.

Use a tissue if one is available. If not, cover your mouth and nose with the bend of your elbow or hands. Be sure to wash hands immediately after coughing or sneezing into them.

When You Are the Caregiver

When you are giving care to someone else, it's important for you to observe proper hand hygiene. In addition to washing your hands in situations described above, you should always wash your hands:

  • Before and after treating wounds or cuts
  • Before and after touching a sick or injured person
  • Before administering medications
  • After diaper change (wash hands of diaper wearer too)

Get Flu & Pneumonia Vaccinations

Tell your doctor or nurse when you received your last flu and pneumonia vaccination. Agree to get flu and pneumonia vaccines when they are offered.

Similarly, make sure your visitors have been vaccinated for flu and pneumonia before they come to the hospital.

Keep Sick Visitors Away

Ask family members and friends who have a cold, the flu or symptoms of an infection (such as fever, rash, cough, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) not to visit.

Whenever possible, limit visits from children under 12.

Obey Isolation Precautions

"Isolation precautions" are sometimes put in place to protect patients, staff and visitors. Depending on the specific illness or medical circumstances, you or a patient with whom you are sharing a room may be put on precautions.

When this happens, visitors and staff may be advised to wear gloves, gowns or masks when visiting your room. For everyone's protection, remind staff and visitors that they must follow any precautions listed on the sign outside your room.

If isolation precautions have been posted outside your room and you don't understand why, ask your doctor or nurse to explain.

Communication is Key

Many of the tactics and tips above rely on clear communication between you and your caregivers.

If you need help communicating, have a family member or friend listen with you when a diagnosis, treatment, test result or discharge plan is being explained. Translation services and hearing-impaired assistance are also available any time of day or night, at no cost to you.

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