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Involving patients in sharps safety

April 15, 2015

Encouraging patients to take a certain level of responsibility when it comes to sharps safety and infection control can help reduce the likelihood of injuries and control risk. However, this can be challenging in the modern healthcare environment.

Like many aspects of management, communication lies at the heart of success and patients need to feel an empowered and active part of their treatment plan.

The Joint Commission established standards to protect patients' rights and assist hospitals in patient education, which is crucial for understanding the necessary standards of a hospital. Although these are broad guidelines, they can help initiate a conversation between patient and healthcare workers.

According to an article published on Infection Control, there are six steps to educating patients about infection control, which is the first step to getting them to feel involved in sharps safety.

Start with the basics

Sharps safety is part of a wider infection control issue and this can be intimidating for patients so starting with the basics is the best place to start. 

"Healthcare providers first and foremost should make sure patients are doing the simplest infection control methods and doing them well", says Patricia McGaffigan, RN, MS, the interim president of the National Patient Safety Foundation. 

This includes everything from washing hands thoroughly under water to sneezing into the elbow instead of into hands. These are very basic practices but are crucial parts of stopping how easily infections are spread.

Ms McGaffigan also states that patients should know that it's acceptable to ask their healthcare workers whether or not they have washed their hands, especially where washing facilities may be out of sight.

She said that putting sanitation stations in clear sight of the patient can help to reassure the patient that all the correct infection control practices are happening.

Make the patient comfortable

The Joint Commission standard also requires hospitals to educate patients about how they can communicate any concerns they may have about their own safety to their healthcare worker, Emi Datuin-Pal, associate project director at the Joint Commission says.

However, it's likely that patients may feel apprehensive about asking questions directly to their physician, but encouraging them to do so can have a real impact on infection control.

If healthcare workers are concerned about this, they can help start communication by asking whether or not the patient has any questions throughout a meeting. It's important that whenever a patient does share any concerns that professionals don't take any criticisms personally and thank them for raising any worries, no matter how trivial.

"It is very difficult for the patient to have the courage to speak up unless they are invited to speak up by the system," Ms McGaffigan added. 

Encouraging advocacy

Patients should always have an advocate, either a family member or someone else, who can help them look out for any changes or problems that may arise. 

Ms McGaffigan said: "Very often the patient is not only reluctant to speak up but they're not feeling well or they may have trouble communicating for a variety of reasons, so that third party is vital."  

This also helps the patient feel like an active part of their treatment plan, rather than just the recipient of whatever their physician recommends.

These approaches can help start a conversation between patient and caregiver about the treatment they receive, whether concerning sharps safety or another element of their care.

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