You’ve got the Touch

Since we’re having joy and merriment with viruses, bacteria, and other fun, fuzzy little subjects:

June 9, 2017 By Melanie Waddell, Director of Marketing, PDI Healthcare

“In an age of constant connectivity, healthcare professionals are rarely without touchscreen devices. From tablets in hallway kiosks to x-ray screens to doctors’ and nurses’ own smartphones, such surfaces abound in healthcare settings.

Proliferation of this technology inadvertently increases the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria and spread of infection. Our fingertips are home to a plethora of bacteria, and constant contact with touchscreens leaves phones, tablets, and other devices coated with thriving bacteria cultures that put all of us at risk if not cleaned properly.

But while touchscreens are present in healthcare facilities now more than ever, protocols for properly addressing the risks they invite haven’t quite caught up.

On any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If not cleaned properly, some bacteria can survive for months on the surface of a dry touchscreen device, according to a 2016 Environmental Health Review study.

And the risk of contamination is amplified by the fact that 86 percent of clinicians and 76 percent of nurses use smartphones while at work, according to Mobile Trends Report and a study published in JMIR Publications, respectively.

Harmful strains, such as MRSA, Staphyloccus and Streptococcus spp can linger on devices and put patients at risk of infection. Such hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) also cost hospitals billions of dollars in reduced reimbursements and preventable expenditures every year, according to the CDC.

The prevalence of these devices emphasizes the importance of proper cleaning, which is one of the most effective means, aside from hand hygiene, of minimizing or eliminating risks.”

A loyal reader, J.S., sent me a wonderful suggestion which tweaked my fanciful, yet bacteria-on my…, virus minded brain. Hard to remember a day when I wasn’t thinking outside a virtual petri dish of microscopic what-ifs being fed by a test tube of streaking headlines every half minute, but I digress.

Yesterday wasn’t a day of rest from the lab-orious, but always laughable, lather of lexicon, however, I did have a moment to check my messages. J.S. squeezed quite an interesting droplet into the little glass of ideas I had sitting around on my formerly germ-free table of literary schemes. She suggested I ponder the possibilities of the the dreaded touchscreen sign-in station at your local medical facility. “Sign-in station” defined, by me, as the non-human, flat formed, roughly two-dimensional, know-it-all-but-must-ask-it-all, bacteria screen circus all of us must face blurry-eyed at 7:05 in the morning after a 24 hour fast …. and use the steadiest finger of our non-shakiest hand while the other comatose, juice deprived patients wait their ever-lovin’ turn behind us.

The last time I used one of these was around a year ago at the medical center just up the street. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it kinda was, I guess. Presentation: a clear 10! .. Execution? Yes … by firing squad, please. I did everything S.O.P.. Name, DOB, procedure (blood work), the date, Dr. Name, my favorite pizza topping, extra mayo … all the standard questions. Uh, oh …. “We don’t have you currently in our system …”. “WHAAA?”, I proclaimed loudly under my breath just enough to get the attention of the receptionist over at the – get this – sign in desk.

She was a very nice lady. I could tell as I stomped gingerly over to her after thumbing my obstinant nose up at the digital excuse of a touchscreen. I explained my purpose for being there and she listened intently. Kudos to her. Also, props to her for telling me I, apparently, wasn’t standing in front of her … as there seemed to be no record of my existence. Damn. No wonder I couldn’t get waited on faster at Walmart.

OH, wait! What she meant was …. nobody sent over the order for my blood work, so my flat-faced, dirty-MRSA friend over at the other end of the lobby didn’t know what to do with me. “What do I do now?”, I kindly asked. “Well, we can’t do anything without an order from your doctor.”.

Stop frame…

One thing you DON’T want to do at this point is the following:

“Hmm. Can I just go over to the screen, again, and order my blood work, a small order of fries, a Pepsi… and maybe some nuggets? Super size, or not … wadda ya think?”

I don’t care how hungry you THINK you are, that is not a good idea. Clever? Yes, most definitely. Smart? Absolutely not. You will get an icy stare – enough to ensure your Pepsi will stay fresh-ly cold for the day. Also, more than enough to guarantee you may never return with both legs operating normal … that is if you can see through two black eyes.

It took three visits back to the center until I finally got my blood work done. What had to be completed, was. Now, just to be fair, I don’t believe the lady at the sign-in desk had anything to do with the delays. It was the inefficiency of the whole system between three different buildings, two doctors, and one two-bit little touchscreen. Oh, and karma.

The bigger picture is the touchscreen sign-in process. Since then, I have used them frequently – as I’m sure you have. The thought of how dirty they must be has crossed my mind, thus the article above. (What’s written by Melanie Waddell is more general and extends to all hand-held devices. Touchscreens – pardon the pun – are not immune.) Not only the unsanitary nature of the screen, but also the frequency of errors I’ve encountered.

It could be me. I have a weird relationship with Karma. We dance the dance so much I wear out my own soul by the synchronicity in the steps of our soles. I walk up to a touchscreeen and can almost expect certain malaise. Not always, but mostly … because I taunt them and they feel my tauntness. ATMs, convenience store kiosks, … any large flat surface requiring my digital attention. They will freeze up, deny my passwords, accept my passwords, but tell me stupid information I didn’t want to know, or just stare at me with a blank screen: “out of order, come back later”

I spent my adolescent and young adult years working in the fast food industry. The big one. No self-serve ordering kiosks. Just now old-fashioned registers where guys like me took your order, ran around to get it all together, collected a few bucks and sent you on your way. Simple.

Today, there are more kiosks than help. I don’t like it. I don’t care for it at the medical centers either. It’s not really because they’re dirty like the above article states, although that’s enough of a reason for most. Humans aren’t machines … and machines can’t ever be human. We need people to be with people. Us with us.

Yeah, I know smarty-mouth guys like me who are a bit testy with nice ladies at 7 a.m. can be challenging, but isn’t that still a better option than flatty-face?

Well J.S., see what you did? Take it in stride, my friend. Thanks for the idea. I will forever be grateful when there is an uprising of the touchscreens against me. Karma can be a nasty thing. I’ll make sure they have your number.

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