For many of us, hospitals conjure up images of dedicated hospital staff clad in theater scrubs walking through stark, linoleum-floored corridors. We know that for hospitals, cleanliness is non-negotiable, with hygiene standards strictly regulated and infection prevention and control (IPC) measures stringently adhered to.
With every possible step taken to ensure surfaces and medical instruments are sterile, many people may assume that the air in high-risk spaces such as isolation rooms that use negative pressure or operating rooms that use positive pressure is cleaned in equal measure — but this is not always the case. Like all indoor spaces in the modern world, hospitals are not immune to the effects of poor indoor air quality — a problem that until recently had no solutions in the conventional hygiene strategy.
Poor indoor air quality in hospitals
Despite the vulnerable nature of their occupants, hospitals can face extremely poor indoor air quality due to the large number of pollutants, gases, odors, and germs lurking in the air. With 150 different hazardous chemicals found in surgical smoke1, including benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde2, some studies indicate that the average daily impact on surgical staff is the equivalent of smoking 27-30 unfiltered cigarettes3.
In addition to these contaminants, high-foot traffic from patient and visitor inflow and outflow, as well the coming and going of shift workers and on-call medical staff creates an environment where already vulnerable patients are subjected to highly polluted indoor air.
Here are five reasons why the indoor air quality in hospitals should be improved:
1. Increased duty of care
As high-risk spaces, the duty of care that hospitals are expected to provide to not only patients but also their staff is tenable. Patients need to be protected from possible hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) during their hospital stay, while doctors, nurses, and staff need to feel reassured that their wellness is a priority while working around the clock. However, visitors should also be afforded the same level of protection, and while decontaminated air may be reserved for patients in high care or isolation, it needn’t be. Disinfected air should be available to all areas of the hospital from reception and cafeterias to general wards and even corridors to help protect the wellbeing of everyone.
2. Manage outbreaks of HAIs
Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), also known as nosocomial infections, are infections acquired by patients who have been hospitalized for more than 48 hours. An average of 10% of HAIs are spread via airborne transmission due to poor indoor air quality4 through talking, coughing, and sneezing by infected patients, visitors, and staff. HAIs are mostly caused by viruses in hospitals and 7–10% of patients are expected to contract at least one HAI5 during their hospital stay.
3. Promote a healthy work environment
Providing round-the-clock care in high-pressure environments, hospitals can ill afford healthcare workers to be on sick leave. The high-foot-traffic nature of hospital spaces can introduce harmful airborne contaminants that could potentially put both staff and patients at risk, while odors from medical supplies, wound drainage, cleaning measures, or from patients themselves can negatively impact the working conditions of hospital staff. In one study, 67.2% of nurses agreed that body odor needed to be controlled to create a pleasant environment for medical staff and patients6. Improving indoor air quality not only adds a sense of reassurance and helps maintain the dignity of patients, but it also helps to promote a healthier and more comfortable working environment.
4. Gain a competitive advantage
Providing comprehensive healthcare to patients is a major competitive advantage for hospitals in both the public and private sectors. With specialized medical units and the latest technology, hospitals can leverage their services to be among the best healthcare providers in their region. When coupled with a watertight IPC policy and stringent hygiene measures, hospitals with indoor air disinfectant technologies can stay ahead of the curve and market themselves as truly putting hygiene first.
5. Return on investment (ROI)
By choosing indoor air safety to protect the wellbeing of both patients and staff, hospitals could reap the benefits of increased ROI through potentially faster patient turnover, staff retention, and the ability to attract specialist practitioners wanting to align with its values. Hospitals that choose to invest in clean air technology as an additional safety measure will be making a powerful statement to the patients in their care and providing a symbol of reassurance to healthcare workers.
- Pierce, J.S. et al. “Laser-generated air contaminants from medical laser applications: a state of the science review of exposure characterization, health effects, and control”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, vol.8, 2011:447–66.
- Okoshi, K. et al. “Health risks associated with exposure to surgical smoke for surgeons and operation room personnel”. Surgery Today, vol.45, 2014
- Hill, D.S. et al. “Surgical smoke – A health hazard in the operating theatre: A study to quantify exposure and a survey of the use of smoke extractor systems in UK plastic surgery units”. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, vol.65, 2012.
- Kalliokoski, P, P Luscuere, and A Streifel. 2003. Indoor Air Quality in Hospitals and Other Health Care Facilities. ISIAQ Task Force Reports, International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate.Pdf.
- WHO. 2011. “WHO. Report on the Burden of Endemic Health Care-Associate… – Google Scholar. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/80135/?sequence=1
- Itakura, Tomoyo, and Megumi Mitsuda. 2000. “Survey of Characteristics of the Odor in Medical,” 1–6.