As an extension of our hands, phones must be considered when it comes to contamination

Patient Safety

Cell Phones an Underappreciated Source of Contamination

“I think people are very aware of infection control in our workplaces, particularly with regard to hand hygiene. But then they’ll go and pick up their phone and forget to clean their hands again or forget to clean their phone. So, they’re inadvertently sabotaging themselves.”

Whether a clinical team is performing a bronchoscopy or cystoscopy, with a single-use endoscope or a reusable one, or an entirely different procedure, the cell phones that travel along may pose a risk of infection.

In recent research from Hollywood, Florida, to Zambia, and from Egypt to Australia, the findings are the same — cell phones potentially can bring contamination into the OR or spread it elsewhere in the hospital.

We focus on infection control in medication preparation, hand hygiene and other areas in our clinical practice,” Dr. Benjamin Houseman, residency program director at Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Fla., told Anesthesiology News. “But nobody talks about how we bring our devices in and out of operating rooms, particularly phones.”

A five-question protocol around phones showed success in a simulated environment tested for contamination. Those results appeared in an abstract at the 2022 American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting.

“I think people are very aware of infection control in our workplaces, particularly with regard to hand hygiene,” Houseman said. “But then they’ll go and pick up their phone and forget to clean their hands again or forget to clean their phone. So, they’re inadvertently sabotaging themselves.”

A study out of a Zambia teaching hospital, published last year in Infection Prevention in Practice, found that mobile phones of healthcare workers (HCWs) were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria that have been implicated in hospital-associated infections (HAIs).

Mobile phones of HCWs can act as reservoirs of healthcare-associated pathogens and other organisms. That’s seen particularly with bacteria associated with skin colonization, given the moisture and warm temperature of the human body, especially the palms of the hands, the researchers found.

Already, the COVID-19 pandemic has stamped out years of steady decline in healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), spurring significant increase in four of six routinely tracked infections, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The increases have been blamed on larger numbers of sicker patients and more frequent and extended use of ventilators and catheters, Healthcare Hygiene Magazine reports. 

Research published in May 2022 in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) suggests a disinfection routine designed to reduce infectious disease transmission related to cell phones in acute care settings.

“Mobile phones have become an extension of our hands,” the authors write. “Why don’t we disinfect phones more often? Nurses’ mobile phones enter patient care areas, but routine disinfection protocols do not exist.”

An Australian study of mobile phone usage, published last year, said phones “are neglected contaminated platforms acting as ‘Trojan Horses’ for microbial (contamination) in healthcare settings and may be partly contributing (to) the high occurrence of nosocomial diseases.”

For years, research has implicated cell phones as a healthcare contamination source.

A 2015 study of cell phones conducted in Egypt found that all 40 of the phones belonging to patients and healthcare workers that were tested were contaminated with at least one bacterial agent.

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