In healthcare settings, infection prevention is everyone’s responsibility. All healthcare workers should perform their duties in such a way to minimize the risk of infection. However, depending on the type of facility, the size, and available resources, there are different types of staff members who may serve key roles in preventing infections.
Many healthcare settings require both an interdisciplinary team addressing infection prevention issues and an infection prevention coordinator. In acute care settings, the interdisciplinary team is usually called an Infection Control Committee and the infection prevention coordinator is called an Infection Preventionist (IP). Those assigned to the team should have formal training in infection prevention, time and authority to perform the tasks associated with infection prevention, and a budget to meet the program activities. While other types of healthcare settings may have different names for these positions and groups, infection prevention issues must be appropriately addressed in every healthcare setting.
Types of staff members that support the infection prevention program may include:
- Infection preventionists (IP), formally the infection control practitioner (ICP) - A healthcare worker whose knowledge base and skills support the contents and general principles of infection prevention and control and is responsible for tracking infections, identifying and managing outbreaks, and monitoring clinical practice. The IP serves an important role on an interdisciplinary team addressing infection prevention issues within the healthcare facility. The IP and other members of the infection prevention team ensure that recommended HAI prevention practices are implemented and followed by healthcare workers, making the healthcare setting safe from infection for patients and healthcare personnel.
- Administrative and managerial personnel - Professionals who manage the internal organization of the hospital and decisions pertaining to the operational activities of the healthcare facility. This includes support for computer hardware and software programs necessary to perform the duties within an infection control program, data entry, and resources to maintain compliance with regulatory and accreditation requirements.
- Environmental services personnel - Members of the environmental services team ensure that the entire healthcare facility is clean and sanitary, and play a critical role in helping prevent the spread of infection through environmental surfaces. This includes specialty areas such as surgical rooms, patient or resident rooms, and food service areas.
- Experts in disinfection and sterilization - These healthcare professionals are trained to facilitate the flow of items and equipment between soiled and clean work areas and sterile storage. Special education is required to ensure that equipment is effectively cleaned and sterilized to ensure that infections are not spread through the use of inappropriately disinfected/sterilized medical equipment.
- Facility engineers - Engineering experts in a healthcare setting who are responsible for the facility elements of electrical engineering, maintenance, environmental, safety, energy controls, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) needs. These environmental and safety controls directly impact the ability to prevent infections within the facility.
- Healthcare epidemiologists - Professionals who are trained in the study of health events, characteristics, and patterns in a healthcare population. They monitor trends and factors that can determine disease or other healthcare outcomes. Epidemiologists recognize disease outbreaks and help establish guidelines to minimize or stop the spread within a healthcare setting or community. This type of staff member is often found in large acute care facilities and teaching hospitals.
- Infectious disease (ID) physicians - An ID physician or specialist is a doctor of internal medicine (or, in some cases, pediatrics) who is trained as an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. An ID physician also has special training in the use of antibiotics, epidemiology (how infections spread), and in infection prevention practices.
- Laboratory professionals - Skilled science professionals who are highly trained to discover the presence or absence of disease in clinical specimens (such as blood or urine) and provide data to help clinicians determine the best course of treatment for the patient. Microbiologists are skilled in the study of organisms called microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These scientists serve an important role in identifying the causative agent of an infection and identifying the antimicrobial agents that may be used in the infection’s treatment.
- Occupational health and safety experts - Professionals with a clinical background as nurses or physicians who are trained to help prevent job-related injuries and illness. They develop and put in place systems for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases in healthcare workers.
- Pharmacists - The practice of a pharmacist focuses on the safe and effective use of medications including antibiotics used to treat some types of infections. Pharmacists use their specialized training to communicate with patients, physicians, and other healthcare providers about the proper use, dosage, and adverse effects of medications.
- Quality/performance improvement specialists - These healthcare specialists may have a clinical background such as a nurse, administrator, or epidemiologist and are responsible for all the elements relating to improving the quality of health care. These specialists share information about best practices, oversee reporting and analyzing data for trends in health care delivery, ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and work together with other leaders to create policies that ensure quality care for the patient or resident.