3 steps radiologists can take to keep healthcare-associated infections out of their practice

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a growing concern in the medical field and they’re increasingly showing up on radiologists’ radar as the field takes on more patients and adopts new imaging modalities.

Researchers with the University of Saskatchewan explored this growing concern in an educational piece published Oct. 14 in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences. They noted that, just as the imaging expert’s responsibility has grown on the care team, so too should the radiology department (RD) play a part in preventing HAIs.

“As the role of medical imaging has extended from primarily diagnosis to include more interventions, the implementation and development of standardized infection minimization protocols and infection control procedures are vital in the RD, particularly in interventional radiology,” wrote Fatima Ilyas, a radiology student and research assistant at Royal University Hospital, and colleagues.

HAIs are a monumental concern for the field; they’re the fourth leading cause of disease in developed countries, are responsible for thousands of deaths each year, and cost the healthcare system billions, researchers noted. But they’re often preventable by putting the right procedures in place.

Radiology practices can be vulnerable to the transmission of HAIs, whether they’re left on imaging devices, spread in waiting rooms, or transmitted by contaminated hands. So, it’s crucial that all members of the imaging care team are educated about this topic, the authors argued.

 They offer three steps that radiology departments can take to help safeguard against infections:

  1. Implement hand hygiene protocols: This is the simplest and most effective way to reduce the spread of HAIs. It typically consists of alcohol hand sanitizers, but they are not effective in stopping enteric infections, such as C. diff. Extra caution should be paid to hand hygiene when using portable x-rays in the emergency department or other susceptible areas. Providers should also use gloves when performing radiological examinations or touching patients.
  2. Sterilize and disinfect equipment: About one-third of HAIs can be prevented by properly cleaning machines, the authors noted. Radiologists are urged to use replaceable sheets on CT and MRI tabletops, ultrasound tables and any other surfaces that come into direct contact with patients. Cleaning equipment with alcohol wipes and chlorhexidine-based detergent between exams is also sound practice. MRI machines can be tough to disinfect, they added, because of difficultly accessing its bore. Providers are encouraged to disinfect with a solution of 1,000 parts of hypochlorite by a million part of chloride.
  3. Control the environment: Some infections, such as Staphylococci, can survive for an extended stretch while adhering to plastic or metal parts of imaging devices. Ilyas and colleagues urged radiologists to adopt the WASH (Good Water supply, Sanitation and Hygiene) protocol to ensure proper disinfection. Risk of HAI can also increase during a hospital renovation project, they cautioned.

The piece also included tips on managing patients who are infected in the radiology department, as well as a quiz to test your knowledge on preventing HAIs. You can read the entire breakdown in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences here.