June 06, 2012 | | Comments 0
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Last Dance, Last Chance—Hot (& humid) Stuff…

Strangely enough, there remains some uncertainty relative to the management of temperature and humidity, particularly in the surgical environment. And the topic of this week’s conversation is: What do you do when your HVAC system is not functioning within its designed specifications?

In full recognition that everyone (to some degree or another) is dealing with fairly site-specific equipment and systems, and a lot about what you can do to respond to out-of-range values, at least from a mechanical standpoint, is going to be fairly variable. Some will be fortunate enough to have some reasonably robust humidification and dehumidification capacity in their systems, others not so much.

Generally speaking, everything depends on the designed capabilities of your system, so, from a mechanical standpoint, you may be limited as to how much you can “tweak” things when temperature and humidity levels drift out of range.

So, what happens when you “exhaust” (small pun intended) your mechanical fixes?

Well, the next step would be (and, as a matter of decorum, this next step would have to be considered one of abundant proactivity) to identify under what performance parameters surgery can be allowed to continue.

A couple of percentage points might be tolerable for short periods of time, etc. but ultimately, this all folds under what risks are involved as the temperature and/or humidity rises.

Clearly, the infection control risk is at the top of the pyramid, but the comfort of the occupants of the room need to be considered as well – can’t have a surgeon sweating into a surgical site, now can we.

So, the strategy would need to be developed as a function of the risk assessment process, with involvement from the infection prevention folks, surgical staff, and folks from engineering.

Again, it’s mostly about identifying when we can no longer wait for the conditions to be corrected and then looking at delays, cancellations, etc. until such time as an appropriate environment can be provided.

By the way, if this sounds like a risk assessment (besides the fact that it’s me), you are absolutely correct.

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Filed Under: CDC/infection controlEmergency management

Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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