It seems that when we in the healthcare industry are still rather complacent with standard precautions, and good disinfectant measures.

Most of us are guilty of poor EMS hygiene. This could be as simple as not gloving up to perform a patient assessment on a little old grandmother. But, when we think we could be exposing ourselves to anything yucky, we glove up… even double glove. That complacency of thinking that the little old grandmother isn’t going to expose us to anything, is the same complacency that makes us forget that we are also a cesspool of germs which can be cross-contaminated to our patients.

I once had a healthcare provider at a hospital attempt to start an IV on me with no gloves. I asked her if she needed to grab a pair of gloves before she started, and she stated, “Oh honey, I know you don’t have anything, and I have been doing this for years with no gloves.” As politely as I could, I explained that while I was flattered she thought so highly of me, I wasn’t real keen on her starting an IV on me without gloving up, you know… for my protection too. She did end up putting on gloves to do the IV after my comment, but the atmosphere in the room took a sudden turn towards silence.

EMS hygiene is a responsibility

We really should be advocates not only for ourselves, but for our patients. Our surroundings are anything but germ-free, but we can do our best to ensure that we are providing the cleanest environment for our patients by practicing proper EMS hygiene. Simple things like wiping down the EKG leads and BP cuff (if not disposable) are the least we can do, but certainly washing our hands (or using hand sanitizer if we can’t wash our hands), and donning gloves before we touch our patients should be standard.

A 2013 study observed EMS providers performing patient deliveries to a hospital in Las Vegas between January and April 2013. Of the 899 EMS providers witnessed, only 512 arrived at the ED wearing gloves. Additionally, researchers only observed handwashing in 250 of the cases. They also found that ECG cables, stethoscopes, and the ambulance itself were disinfected in less than 31.6% of witnessed cases. The EMS observed, however, did commonly disinfect backboards.

This clearly shows a lot of room for improvement.

Standard precautions are not only for our protection, but for our patient’s protection. It is the first critical step in preventing hospital-acquired illnesses.

While it’s important to continue to protect ourselves, remember the number one objective in patient care – do no harm.

Setting our patients up for hospital-acquired illnesses certainly falls under harm, regardless of how unintentional it is.