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Frequency of Patient Contact with Health Care Personnel and Visitors: Implications for Infection Prevention

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Background: Contact with health care workers may be an important means of infection transmission between patients, yet little is known about patterns of patient contact with staff and visitors in hospitals. In a cross-sectional study, the frequency, type, and duration of contacts made by health care workers, other hospital staff, and visitors to patients in acute care settings were documented.

Methods: Patients were observed in seven units of three academic hospitals, with recording of each occurrence of someone's entry into the patient's room. The health care worker's role, the duration of the visit, and the highest level of patient contact made were noted. Staff were also surveyed to determine their perception of how many patients per hour they come into contact with, how long they spend with patients, and the level of patient contact that occurs.

Findings: Hourly room entries ranged from 0 to 28 per patient (median, 5.5), and patients received visits from 0 to 18 different persons per hour (median, 3.5). Nurses made the most visits (45%), followed by personal visitors (23%), medical staff (17%), nonclinical staff (7%), and other clinical staff (4%). Visits lasted 1 to 124 minutes (median, 3 minutes for all groups). Persons entering patients' rooms touched nothing inside the room, only the environment, the patient's intact skin, or the patient's blood/body fluids 22%, 33%, 27%, and 18% of the time, respectively. Medical staff estimated visiting an average of 2.8 different patients per hour (range, 0.5–7.0), and nursing staff estimated visiting an average of 4.5 different patients per hour (range, 0.5–18.0).

Conclusions: Examining patterns of patient contact may improve understanding of transmission dynamics in hospitals. New transmission models should consider the roles of health care workers beyond patients' assigned nurses and physicians.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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