Infection prevention and control is a cornerstone of safe treatment in all practice settings. In this new era of patient care amidst COVID-19, the healthcare industry is faced with having to balance the new risks posed to providers by the pandemic with existing risks for patient infection due to age, gender, or co-morbidities. Safe, efficient use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for patients, providers, and the professional community in mitigating the new risks to providers and to supporting patient care.
We know what must be done to safeguard providers and patients, but we face great challenges as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in waves across the country.
PPE Shortages: Many PPE items are now available in only limited supply according to the FDA’s list of medical device shortages and facilities are facing increased demand, especially as physicians in ambulatory surgical centers seek to provide non-emergent care to those requiring screening, surveillance, or therapeutic procedures.
Increased Expenses: It is estimated that hospitals’ PPE cost has been $3.8 billion in the second half of 2020 (Richard Pollack, American Hospital Association [AHA], CEO). Such an unprecedented cost raises questions of how to best prioritize and distribute the necessary equipment, share the burden of cost, ensure integrity and management of supplies, and maintain education standards and training on the appropriate use of PPE.
Time-Consuming Fit Testing: PPE fit testing is expensive not only from a dollar perspective but from the time required. In the case of unique procedures where outside experts are needed to attend, there may be limited room or time for proper PPE fit testing to take place.
Inappropriate Use of PPE: Add to this burden the fact that some facilities are fighting back against the inappropriate use of PPE, such as N95 mask re-use, and you have a perfect storm.
Having moved from a long career as a nurse practitioner and educator to a new role in infection prevention with a medical technology company, I am now using my training and education to help ensure that our company supports practitioners in the safe and effective use of our products. We are all deeply concerned by the struggles of healthcare providers in accessing the PPE needed to safely do their jobs, and out of this concern, we have looked critically at our own practice.
Part of the calculus we have been forced to make as a medtech company is how to facilitate correct management of our medical devices and instruments being used during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures while trying to conserve critical PPE for healthcare providers involved in patient care.
We have determined that one of the best routes to reducing PPE misuse is to avoid having to use it in the first place. And we have made this determination based on the potential we see in the use of virtual telepresence platforms to save PPE supplies by allowing support and training from outside experts to be provided remotely. Facilities can use a virtual telepresence platform to:
Bring medtech representatives into procedure rooms to support physicians during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in real-time.
Enable health care students to observe cases as they learn to care for patients in unique circumstances.
Invite experts into procedure spaces virtually to assist physicians without having to don additional sets of PPE for quick consults.
Infection prevention was already a challenging endeavor, and COVID-19 has further pressurized the situation. With a “Communicate, Enforce and Preserve” mindset, the healthcare community will adjust, as we have adjusted to the many challenges we have faced before this one. My hope is that we will not only adjust but also adapt by making investments in technologies that can help us all better support patient care.
1 Medical Device Shortages During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency | FDA.gov Updated 9/24/20. Accessed September 19, 2020.