Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are an ever-present risk in hospitals and can be caused by contaminated surfaces around the patient room, including privacy curtains. Globally, there is a growing effort by hospitals to combat HAIs by eliminating cloth curtains and replace them with solid-surface solutions.
In the US, when it comes to high-touch surfaces and cleaning protocols, cloth curtains often get overlooked. This comes at a cost, both financially and in loss of life, as it puts patients and staff at unnecessary risk. Fortunately, hospitals in the US can learn from the examples being set in Europe and elsewhere around the world, where more modern healthcare systems are implementing alternatives to curtains to adapt and protect their patients.
Infection rates reveal plenty of room for improvement
The US hospital system is one of the largest in the world and continues to grow, and hospital data and infection rates reveal obvious room for improvement. According to data from the American Hospital Association, there are 6,090 hospitals in the US, which see a total of 36,241,815 admissions per year. The CDC’s Winnable Battles Report, shows that 1 in 25 U.S. hospital patients were diagnosed with at least one hospital-related infection, and that between 2019 and 2020, there were significant increases in VRE (35%), CLABSI (24%), MRSA (15%). As a result, the direct cost to US hospitals from HAI transmissions ranges up to $45 billion.
Privacy curtains are a pathogen breading ground
The National Institute of Health released a report discussing curtains as a potentially important site of bacterial contamination in hospitals. They conducted a three-week study of patient privacy curtains where swabs were taken on the curtains’ leading-edge twice weekly. Twelve of 13 curtains (92%) of the curtains showed contamination within one week. Forty-one of 43 (95%) curtains were contaminated at least once. Of the 43 contaminated curtains, 21% were positive for MRSA, 42% were infected with VRE.
Additionally, the American Journal of Infection Control reported a study that found that 37% of hospitals facilities launder privacy curtains only when they are visibly soiled. These contaminated surfaces undermine the efforts to control HAIs.
The growing worldwide trend
Recognizing the danger that cloth privacy barriers present, many hospitals around the world are replacing their old-style fabric curtains and cloth screens with solid-surface privacy folding screens. They are doing so to help prevent the spread of microorganisms, as they are less susceptible to harboring bacteria and easier to clean if they become contaminated and during room turnover.
As of 2022, hospitals and clinics in 40 countries use Silentia privacy screens as a curtain alternative, which includes 70% of the 50 best hospitals in the world. It’s worth noting, not every country has developed strict bans on privacy curtains, and the guidelines range from recommendations to fully adopted regulations.
Denmark has emerged as Europe’s leader in the shift away from hospital curtains. The Danish health authorities, who refer to curtains as “reservoirs of infection,” have developed documentation as a standard for hospitals that outlines the hygiene issues with curtains, including possible contamination by people who have been colonized or infected with microorganisms, including MRSA, VRE, c. difficile, Acinetobacter, norovirus, and mycobacterium tuberculosis. As a result, textile curtains in patient rooms are no longer recommended and Danish regulations now encourage all new or renovated hospitals to use hard surface patient privacy screens.
In 2012, Odense University Hospital performed a trial that tested Silentia folding privacy screens against textile curtains. The evaluation consisted of a range of performance categories, including hygiene, functionality, stability and durability. Feedback showed that the screens were an overall improvement to care and the health care team decided to implement them as a permanent solution.
In 2014, Glostrup Hospital, now called Rigshospitalet Glostrup, installed more than 100 hygienic Silentia folding screens in 11 wards. Then, in 2015, as part of an effort to combat hospital infections, Nykøbing F. Sygehus became the shining example of full adoption as the first hospital in Denmark to replace all its curtains with Silentia folding screens in every department.
In Sweden, hospitals are universally recommended against using curtains. New hospital construction or renovation projects no longer recommend curtains as a solution for patient privacy. In 2015, once pointed out that fabric patient curtains were not suitable for maintaining hospital hygiene, the management at Kalmar County Hospital decided to equip the hospital with Silentia folding screens.
Switzerland has adopted recommendations for replacing curtains depending upon needs, requirements, and other factors at each individual hospital. After a three-year evaluation of the folding screens, the Riviera-Chablais Hospital on the Swiss Rivera was the first Swiss hospital to replace patient curtains with Silentia folding screens.
Golden Jubilee National Hospital, in Scotland, found that the traditional pull-around curtains were costly to remove, launder, and install clean curtains. In addition, there were three different size curtains, and management was looking for an alternative that was easy to clean and cost-effective. After Silentia gave a presentation to nursing staff, infection protection, and housekeeping, Golden Jubilee purchased 157 Silentia screens consisting of seven or nine-panel screens.
When England’s new North Walsham Hospital installed Silentia screens, the staff found that the screens were easier to clean than curtains. In addition, the screens are more robust and give the patient more privacy and dignity. Making the patients feel more secure than the curtains.
A hopeful future for US hospitals
Many US hospitals have experienced the benefits of solid-surface screens that are easy to clean and disinfect, saving money, time and resources. For over six years, Silentia has helped hundreds of hospitals go curtain-free, from individual patient rooms to entire departments.
Silentia screens can be cleaned with materials and chemicals already used in hospitals, without being removed from the room and sent to the laundry. They don’t require a team or third-party service to remove, install, and transport to an off-site laundry service, as is required with patient privacy curtains, resulting in lower time and cost for room turnover. While the initial cost may be more than that of curtains, there is little additional expense over the life of the screens.
Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a severe problem in healthcare facilities and studies show that the bacteria that cause these infections are often harbored in the patient privacy curtains. The use of Silentia screens can significantly reduce the incidence of HAIs, evidenced by the growing adoption we see across Europe and elsewhere around the world. It’s only a matter of time and the ability to raise awareness that a practical, modern solution for a safer environment for patients and staff exists.
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