The evolution of the infection preventionist

By: July 22nd, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

There is little doubt the role of infection preventionists (IP) is becoming more important and more diverse as dangerous infections evolve and infiltrate our nation’s hospitals.

But it’s also a role that is new for many healthcare sectors, especially the ambulatory care sector, where CMS Conditions for Coverage now require ambulatory surgery centers to appoint a trained professional in charge of the infection prevention program. In other facilities like long-term care, or long term acute care (LTACs), the IP position is in place, but may be divided among numerous other responsibilities such as supervisor, staff educator, employee health coordinator, etc. Therefore, IPs in any setting must be given the proper training, time, and resources to do the job.

A recent article featured in Pulse, a magazine published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which focuses on jobs in the healthcare profession, highlighted the increased importance of infection preventionists.

“The stakes are higher, so the role is growing and commanding more respect than ever before,” Denise Flook, coordinator for workforce and infection prevention initiatives for the Georgia Hospital Association says in the article. “There have been infections since the beginning of time, but the number of resistant infections is going up and our patients are more acute. An infection can cause additional morbidities or mortalities.”

Infection prevention has been around for years, and although the author suggests it’s a job that has typically “been given to older nurses at the end of their careers,” many of us have been fighting infections for decades only to have the spotlight pulled on us now that prevention measures are more demanding. But we can use the attention to our advantage. This makes it all the more important to carefully choose new infection preventionists and train them on evidenced-based practices and the very basics of infection prevention.

Is there someone in your facility who is a go-getter and always inquisitive and creative with ideas and interventions on infection prevention and control? Do they have a real interest in emerging diseases and education? Is there a person in the clinics, offices, surgery center, long term care facility whom you could train and send for additional training? IPs must take the time to develop and mentor these folks along in order to have valuable assistance on the job and new professionals to follow in our footsteps.

The topics listed in the “APIC /CHICA (Canada Infection Prevention, Control, and Epidemiology): Professional and Practice Standards” detail the areas in which an IP should have fundamental knowledge:

  • Epidemiology, including outbreak management
  • Infectious diseases
  • Microbiology
  • Patient care practices
  • Asepsis
  • Disinfection/sterilization
  • Occupational health
  • Facility planning/construction
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Learning/education principles
  • Communication
  • Product evaluation
  • Information technology
  • Program administration
  • Legislative issues/policy making
  • Research

If you are new to the infection prevention sector of healthcare, you are probably overwhelmed, so take a deep breath. Remember infection preventionists don’t just emerge overnight. There is a gradual learning curve and tremendous amount of ongoing learning as new diseases, technology, and regulations force us to think differently about infection prevention.

But if you are looking for some assistance with the fundamentals of infection prevention training for an employee with new IP responsibilities, Peg Luebbert and I are presenting the Infection Prevention Core Training Bundle. We had our first Webcast on MDROs last week (now available on demand) and our next one covering HAIs is August 12. If you are looking for a resource that will lay the groundwork for your new IP, this training crash course might be just what you need.

Comments

How did the term “infection preventionist” develop? I struggle with the term, since “preventionist” is not a real word. I understand the importance of the concept, but “infection controlist” was also never a term. How about, “infection prevention and control practitioner”?
Thanks!

By Libby Chinnes on July 22nd, 2009 at 10:15 am

As pat of a “branding” campaign last year, APIC coined the term “infection preventionist” as this is what we do and our unique contribution to patient safety and employee health. An IP is a specialist and is specifically trained in the areas of patient safety and improving patient outcomes based on evidence-based literature as well as saving money for our healthcare facilities. Prevention is our priority and we are uniquely qualified to advocate for our patients in this role.

Libby the link to the Infection Prevention Core Training Bundle is not working… Could you advise? Thanks

Thanks Libby, I recently became the manager of an infection prevention and control program for a six hospital system, and there is not an overwhelming consensus for any one title. The most recognized term with our stakeholders is currently Infection Control Practitioner, and even some on my team struggle with a non-real word in their title. Is APIC planning on using the word “prevention” in their organization’s title?

I HAVE BEEN IN THE INFECTION CONTROL BUSINESS SINCE 1970-CERTAINLY NOT STARTING AS AN OLD NURSE AT THE END OF MY CAREER.MY CONCERN IS THAT THERE IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL LEVEL OF PRACTICE IN NURSING MUCH LESS IN INFECTION CONTROL. THERE ARE SO MANY NON-CLINICAL AND TECHNICAL LEVELS IN THE FIELD THAT IT IS HARD TO IDENTIFY WHO TO CONTACT FOR INFO.I AGREE THAT THE “PREVENTIONIST” TITLE IS NOT A REAL WORD BUT THEN WE SEEM TO BE IN AN ERA OF MADE-UP WORDS. I HAVE SEEN SO MANY CHANGES IN THE FIELD THAT IT SEEMS THAT THE ACTUAL CLINICAL PRACTICES HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED IN ALL THE CORE CURRICULA AND AS A RESULT NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING OTHER THAN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO WASH HANDS. TIMES HAVE NOT CHANGED FOR THE BETTER.

When refering to MDs as Intensivist and Hosptialists, it is understood that these titles reflect their focus of practice. Personally, a “control” practitioner has a negative connotation. It implies that there is an infection issue that requires corraling. Contrarily, “preventionist” implies proactiveness. I perceive this as a positive function. To me, this defines the core of my role in patient safety proactiveness to prevent. I have embraced this new title.

 

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