The Importance of Following Standard Precautions
On a daily basis, nurses working in various departments of medical facilities and practices have an abundance of responsibilities on their plate. This career requires the ability to demonstrate compassion to each patient, while ensuring that multi-tasking practices are efficient and effective.
As vital members of the health care field, nurses must follow certain rules and regulations related to patient care. One crucial example is standard precautions, which were devised and implemented to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases. Despite the critical nature of these actions, fewer than one-fifth (17.4 percent) of nurses complied with all nine standard precautions, according to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control.
Following these cautionary measures is incredibly important for the health of nurses and their patients as well as the safety of the facility in which they work. Before we delve into the benefits gained by adhering to these actions, we must first examine what standard precautions are:
What are standard precautions?
The history of standard precautions can be traced back 140 years to 1877, when the first actions regarding infected patients were created. At this time, infectious disease hospitals were used to quarantine sick individuals with others in dealing with similar situations, although potentially different illnesses. Medical professionals soon realized that transmission of various conditions was likely in these facilities, which led them to introduce the cubicle system. This measure separated people by their specific illness. In addition, nurses began to understand the impact patient diseases had on their own health and well-being and began cleaning their hands with antiseptic following individual interactions.
It wasn’t until 1970 that the first guidance regarding infection control was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This direction still related to isolation as a practice, although a 1975 update did include instruction on the disposal of medical supplies such as needles and syringes. Universal precautions were officially introduced in 1987 by the CDC to limit interaction with potentially dangerous blood and body fluids. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration made these measures a federal mandate in December 1991, and they were officially renamed standard precautions in 1996. They’ve been in place ever since. Standard precautions are as follows, according to the CDC:
- Perform hand hygiene
- Use personal protective equipment when there is a potential for exposure to infectious materials
- Adhere to respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette principles
- Ensure appropriate patient placement, especially regarding isolation precautions
- Handle, clean and disinfect patient healthcare equipment as well as any instruments and devices used in the process
- Clean and disinfect the environment as a whole
- Handle textiles and laundry in a careful manner
- Follow safe injection practices
- Wear a surgical mask when performing lumbar punctures
- Guarantee the safety of healthcare workers by properly handling needles and other sharp instruments
It’s critical for nursing professionals to follow these guidelines for the following reasons:
Prevention of the spread of infectious illnesses
Standard precautions protect people against the potential transmission and outbreak of communicable diseases such as hepatitis, HIV and other bloodborne infections.
While some infectious illnesses immediately alert individuals to their presence as a result of irregular symptoms, others are less obvious. For example, viral hepatitis may only present itself after severe liver damage has occurred, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In addition, about one in seven Americans with HIV are unaware that they are carrying the virus, and are responsible for nearly one-third of the transmissions in the U.S., the CDC found. As a result, many people may not realize their infectious nature for a period of time, leaving friends, family members and medical professionals open to the possibility of being affected if not cautious.
Complying with standard precautions enables nurses to assume that every person they come into contact with could be potentially infected. These actions, if followed for every patient, can help prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
Protection of patients
The number of people a nurse sees on any given day varies by the type of facility they work in, the specialty they practice – if there is one – and the day itself. Despite these factors, it’s safe to say these medical professionals interact with a good amount of individuals with varying degrees of health.
Just as physicians take the Hippocratic Oath, nurses recite the Nightingale Pledge during pinning ceremonies for many years. This vow promises adherence to a code of ethics as well as a dedication to elevating the profession as a whole by providing a strong level of service to patients. While nurses will have to protect and serve individuals with infectious illnesses, they must do the same for persons with less severe conditions. Following standard precautions ensures all patients are treated the same, and shielded from the spread or worsening of communicable diseases.
Reduction of hospital readmission
Making a trip to the hospital is frequently a last resort for patients, due to the costs associated with admittance. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, hospitalizations account for almost one-third of the $2 trillion spent on health care in the U.S. This number includes first-time visits as well as readmissions, the latter of which can be reduced and prevented by particular actions on the part of nursing staff.
AMN Healthcare recommended practices such as educating patients on the options they have access to, depending on their condition, and ensuring communication between the hospital and primary care physicians is frequent and detailed. But one of the easiest steps nurses can take is following standard precautions.
Complying with these measures will prevent patients from exposure to and infection from communicable diseases, which may result in readmission for further treatment and care. Adhering to standard precautions can also reduce the liability nurses may encounter if an individual they care for experiences an outbreak related to an infectious illness.
While nurses have a duty to treat and tend to patients of varying degrees of health, they also have a responsibility to ensure they remain well on the job. Following standard precautions can not only help individuals avoid communicable diseases, but aid medical professionals in maintaining their own health and well-being.
By focusing on self preservation, nurses can provide a better level of care and treatment for their patients. The effectiveness of their practice is aided by a sound mind and a clean bill of health, both of which can be achieved and upheld by following important healthcare practices.
Students who earn a BS in Nursing from Rutgers University will understand the critical nature of these measures in the overall health of themselves and their patients. A higher level of education in the nursing field will enable these medical professionals to provide the best service possible to those individuals who need it most.