- What is an EMS infection control policy?
- Benefits of an infection control policy
- How to develop an infection control policy
- How to train employees, and verify they understand the policy
Across the nation paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and sheriffs' deputies have contracted, and in some cases, died from COVID-19.. Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff on the frontlines of the pandemic have suffered losses as well.
Before COVID, we sometimes heard stories of EMS responders who had been infected with a number of different airborne and bloodborne diseases. As a result, many EMS divisions have created their own EMS control policies in order to keep their providers and their organizations safe.
However, as we have learned elsewhere, EMS responders don't always follow the requirements of their department when it comes to things like hand washing after removing gloves or properly disinfecting their gear after a shift.
Infectious diseases have always been a concern for anyone in healthcare and first responders who deal with the public. An EMS infection control policy will help your EMS responders understand the seriousness of possible infections, the expectations you have of all providers and staff, and the consequences of a failure to follow the policy.
In this article, we will share what an EMS infection control policy is, its benefits, how to develop one, and how to train your employees on it.
What is an EMS infection control policy?
An EMS infection control policy is one that determines how EMS providers will help avoid being contaminated with bloodborne or airborne illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis A/B/C, tuberculosis, and, of course, COVID-19.
The policy explains what responders are expected to wear in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE), provides information on the different possible communicable diseases, and provides training on the information contained in the policy.
The infection control policy should also cover preventive hygiene measures, disposal of sharps, cleaning and disinfecting an ambulance, and post-exposure procedures and protocols.
In short, this policy is designed to protect the EMS providers as well as the general public. It educates the providers about the different diseases, how they're transmitted, and how to protect themselves from possible contamination.
Benefits of an EMS infection control policy
There are several benefits of an EMS infection control policy, and it all has to do with safety and liability.
As the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) said in their Guide to Infection Prevention in Emergency Medical Services: Many EMS system responders are not hospital-based and therefore may not have the same knowledge of the importance of infection prevention as healthcare facilities.
So an infection control policy keeps your first responders safe and healthy. The policy sets requirements for specific types of PPE, precautions they must take, how often they clean and disinfect their equipment, as well as how often they clean and disinfect their rig. This protects responders from not only getting sick when dealing with a patient, it also protects them from picking up something much later, after the initial exposure.
The policy also helps slow the spread of disease, because the responders aren't passing it to other patients or peers. We've all seen how quickly an unchecked disease can spread, so it's necessary to take precautions to protect civilians and coworkers from any of the diseases. When a first responder is potentially exposed to a communicable disease, your EMS infection control policy should also contain information on post-exposure protocols, which may include self-quarantining if necessary.
An infection control policy also protects the organization and other staff. For one thing, it keeps the disease from being spread in the station house or hospital, which protects all the other staff. It can also protect the organization from liability if a provider gets sick and then tries to sue the organization for failing to provide adequate information and training.
Having a policy that every member of the department has reviewed and signed demonstrates your commitment to education, equipment, and training.
How to develop an EMS infection control policy
As with other policies in your manual, writing an EMS infection control policy begins with talking to the experts in the field, as well as other EMS agencies in nearby cities and regions.
Look for model policies like Nebraska's and New Jersey's infection control policy. You want to make sure that you cover the most common diseases the providers could face in the field, whether they're airborne or bloodborne.
Check the CDC, OSHA, and NIOSH regulations to see the latest guidance for EMS personnel and COVID-19, as well as the EMS.gov's EMS Infections Disease Playbook As federal agencies, they have developed some of the most thorough information on record for EMS providers in any part of the country. You'll be able to find information that pertains to your agency and the greater community.
And be sure to check APIC's Guide to Infection Prevention in EMS for a full list of diseases, both airborne and bloodborne to see which ones you should include in your own EMS infection control policy.
For example, the APIC guide includes information, prevention methods, and work restrictions for:
- Hepatitis A/B/C
- Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
- Viral hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Marburg)
Your policy should also cover whether your employees must get COVID vaccinations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that employers can require employees to be vaccinated. Some first responders have pushed back against the idea. Here in our hometown of Orlando, Orange County first responders have been protesting against the mayor's vaccine mandate for all county employees.
Once you've assembled the CDC, OSHA, NIOSH, and local information, it's time for your policy creation team to write up the policy, synthesizing all the information you've collected. After the initial drafts have been completed and your team members have given their feedback, it's time to run it past the appropriate leadership as well as any medical experts and even legal experts to discuss any issues your department could face for enforcement of the policies.
How to train employees and verify they understand the policy
Your EMS infection control policy is there to protect your responders and staff, as well as your organization, so you need to ensure that everyone has seen it, understands it, and has been trained on the content.
Not only will you need this if there are ever legal challenges, but your liability insurance provider or an accreditation provider like Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS) or Committee on Accreditation for the EMS Professions (CoAEMSP) will often require that you have one.
This means your policy – all your policies, in fact – need these three things:
- The ability to read the policy manual, as well as any updates, on any kind of device: mobile phone, tablet, or laptop at any time.
- The ability to track all signatories to a policy, and the ability to send automatic reminders to people who have not signed off on it.
- The ability to access training content tied in directly with the different policies.
This last point is important. You don't want to gather all your providers into a large training room, especially now, and share the information with them. For one thing, it's not safe. For another, it's hard to get everyone on the same schedule at the same time; you'll need to run several training sessions just to make sure they all get the same information.
This is where online training can make a difference. Online training has become a preferred option for many first responder agencies. It allows them to watch training videos or read training manuals during their downtime at any time of day or night. There's no need to schedule sessions, because they can access it when it fits their schedule.
Your responders can access that material on any mobile device or computer, as long as they have a wifi or cellular signal. And, your online training solution can keep track of who has accessed that content, completed the different units, and then aggregate everyone's completion into a single visual dashboard. This way, agency leadership can see completion rates and monitor compliance regulations. It also makes it easier to share that data with accreditation assessors who are evaluating your training efforts.
Ideally, you'll provide testing on these policies and procedures. With the right solution, your testing, training, and policies will all be connected and trackable.
The three areas should support each other – policies, training, and testing – like three legs on a stool. Without one of the legs, the stool will fall over. So it's important to keep those three areas in a single software solution where they can work together and support each other: Your training should tie into the new policies, and the testing should cover the training materials.
PowerDMS has helped EMS agencies create, develop, and manage their policy manuals in a cloud-based solution. We offer the tools to help your agency create new policies, update them, and share them with all of your staff.
We make it possible for your compliance managers to share the results with your accreditation agency and insurance providers. We also created the platform that makes it possible for trainers and third-party content providers to upload their training material and make it available to your employees.
An EMS infection control policy can literally save the lives of your responders, staff, and patients. Requirements for personal protective equipment, precautions, and post-exposure protocols all help your staff protect themselves. And since EMS providers are exposed to different diseases and infections on a continual basis, they need to have the latest information and training.
PowerDMS has worked for years to help EMS departments to create policies for issues like infection control, uniforms, and drugs and alcohol use. Learn about other EMS policies department should have in writing today.