- What are infectious disease policies and procedures?
- Importance of an infectious disease policy
- How to develop an infectious disease policy and procedures
In 2020, the healthcare industry faced an unprecedented challenge as COVID-19 spread across the globe. As hospitals became inundated with patients, healthcare workers struggled to remain safe.
But COVID is only one of the many threats facing healthcare settings. Hospitals deal with infectious diseases as a matter of course, and so they need to be prepared to control diseases and respond to any spread that may occur.
An infectious disease policy and procedure creates the guidelines for your employees to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. They also help you to meet compliance standards and protect yourself from liability.
In this article, we’ll explore what an infectious disease is, look in depth at infectious disease policies and procedures, and then we’ll detail how you can develop these policies for yourself, including best practices and a look at a sample infectious disease policy.
As the COVID pandemic has taught us, we need to be prepared.
What is an infectious disease?
The Mayo Clinic has a good definition of infectious disease:
“Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Many organisms live in and on our bodies. They're normally harmless or even helpful. But under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease.
Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person. Some are transmitted by insects or other animals. And you may get others by consuming contaminated food or water or being exposed to organisms in the environment.”
There are long standing existing infectious diseases as well as new, emerging ones. According to the CDC, these new diseases result from the evolution of existing organisms, known infections spreading to new geographic areas, or old infections reemerging.
Spread can also occur because of the breakdown of public health measures. Diseases that have spread because of this include influenza, staph infections, and the Ebola and Zika viruses.
What are infectious disease policies and procedures?
When a healthcare provider has to respond to the presence of an infectious disease, they need to do so in an organized and calm fashion. Otherwise, chaos could cause the situation to worsen.
An infectious disease policy and procedure is the structure that allows for an orderly and thorough response to threats. They are the guidelines, training, and instruction that clearly lays out how to act based on various scenarios.
It’s worth breaking apart and explaining the two components that work together to control infection.
Infectious disease policies are the guidelines, rules, and regulations that establish the importance of disease control and how to prevent an outbreak.
Think of these as the top-level view of your organization’s goals and plans.
Infectious disease procedures, then, put those policies into action. These explain the specific steps and actions for carrying out the policy, including such items as how staff should interact with infected patients, or how to disinfect equipment and rooms.
Procedures are all action items, and they will be specific to the needs of your facility.
Remember, every healthcare operation is unique. While a sample infectious disease policy can be a good starting point, your facility has its own needs, challenges, and patient demographics. Your policies and procedures should reflect those differences.
Importance of an infectious disease policy
No healthcare provider wants an infectious disease spreading through their facility, and an infectious disease policy is an essential safeguard in preventing that from happening.
According to the CDC:
“Healthcare workers have a high risk of contact with infectious agents due to the various types of activities involved with their jobs and the possibilities of contamination.”
It’s almost a certainty that you’ll have an infectious agent present in your facility, but what matters most is that you contain it quickly and thoroughly. If not, more staff and patients could be infected.
If you’re then found to be negligent in your control efforts, you could be legally liable for the pain and suffering caused by those who are infected. As the human resources company SHRM says:
“Employers are legally liable for both employees and nonemployees infected in the workplace. Additionally, chronic disease carriers such as persons with tuberculosis are protected against employment discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is imperative to have a policy and actionable plan in place that considers legally protected employees under the ADA, privacy issues of infected employees, recognition of risk, and the reduction of employer liability and continuing operations.”
This can lead to financial damages, potential fines if you aren’t in compliance with regulations, and a loss of reputation in the community.
On the other hand, if you have a policy in place it can help your employees to be better prepared and informed, and it can prevent diseases from spreading. This is truly a life saving measure.
Beyond that, if you have good procedures on the books, it can help to make it easier to deal with compliance and accreditation.
How to develop an infectious disease policy and procedures
Now that you’ve seen how important infectious disease policies and procedures are, you may be wondering where to start. These steps will guide you through that process.
Identify known risks
First, you’ll want to consider the disease risks that you know. What are the common infectious diseases such as influenza that you deal with on a regular basis? Are you handling them appropriately? How do they spread, and is there anything more you could do to stop them?
Additionally, does your facility specifically treat any infectious diseases on a regular basis? If so, what measures do you have in place to control it?
Plan for unknown risks
Inevitably, there will be a time when a patient or employee unwittingly brings an infectious disease into your facility. In this stage of planning, think first about what measures you will institute to check for those diseases.
Secondly, create a plan for how you will respond when an unexpected pathogen appears. This can include isolating the patient, requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by staff, and disinfecting.
Create a communication plan
When an infection does present itself, you need to work fast and in a coordinated effort with your team to control it. Communication is a key component of that work.
Appoint people to take the lead in these scenarios, and have guidelines in place on how to disseminate information to the staff. By being informed, they will be better prepared to respond.
An infectious disease policy is only good if it is put into action. To make that happen, you need to have clearly defined roles. When an emergency situation occurs, who takes what action? Who makes the key decisions?
And another critical part of this is accountability. Establish what will happen if people don’t follow through on their assigned tasks. By making infection response part of an employee’s job description, you can tie this to their performance.
Comply with regulations
There may be federal, state, or local laws that govern how you handle infectious diseases. Make sure you know which of these laws apply to you and that your infectious disease policies and procedures conform to them.
OSHA has guidelines regarding infectious diseases and safety that should be taken into account.
You should also look into whether your specific practice area has any industry standards that apply.
Remember, these standards can change quickly. In the case of COVID, even the CDC frequently updated its guidance as new information came in.
Train your employees
Once you have your policy in place, a final step is to share it with your employees. Make sure that the language of the policies and procedures is clear and concise. It won’t do your employees any good if they don’t understand it.
You also likely will need to conduct training, either in person or virtually, so that your employees are prepared to carry out the procedures. Remember, you want them to be ready to act exactly as needed when the moment comes.
Sample infectious disease policy
When preparing your own policy, it can be helpful to view others to see how different organizations have approached the same challenge. Here are a few sample infectious disease policies:
Just remember that your specific facility is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to consider your own needs as you create your own policies and procedures.
As the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, healthcare providers must be ready to respond to infectious diseases. And that threat is always going to be unpredictable.
The cost of being unprepared is significant in terms of health dangers and potential financial impacts, and so it’s important to take steps today to be prepared. An infectious disease policy won’t guarantee you never face a challenging situation, but it will leave you prepared.
A policy software management system such as PowerDMS can be an asset in that work. PowerDMS allows you to remotely control access to all of your important documents, such as an infectious disease policy, so that employees can easily and quickly reference them, getting critical information right when they need it.
Now that you’ve finished reading about infectious disease policies and procedures, consider reading up on other essential policies in our article 10 important healthcare policies for your facility.