From tablets to smartphones to laptops, electronic devices are increasingly important parts of healthcare settings, but they also pose hygiene challenges. They easily travel from patient room to room, and are constantly touched by hands, among the most well-documented carriers of germs in hospitals. In fact, research shows such tools are often contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and other microorganisms, which can undermine other infection-control efforts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, electronics are considered non-critical items in healthcare settings, meaning they come in contact with skin but not mucous membranes. Unlike critical items, these don’t need to be sent to a central processing area to be cleaned. In other words, clinicians and administrators can and should disinfect them in their place of work.
Follow these steps to keep your electronic devices clean and your patients safe.
How to disinfect electronic devices in healthcare settings
Use approved, germicidal wipes. Not all wipes can effectively disinfect a device without harming it. There will typically be information about this available in a device’s user guide. You can also contact your facility’s infection and prevention control staff about approved brands. Pre-saturated wipes are preferable to sprays with cloths or fibrous materials, such as paper towels.
The ideal disinfectant is:
- Able to kill a broad range of microbes
- Active in the presence of organic matter (e.g., blood, sputum, feces) and compatible with soaps, detergents, etc.
- Noncorrosive of instruments, metallic surfaces, cloth, rubber, plastics, etc.
- Long-lasting, leaving a residual, antimicrobial film on the treated surface
- Easy to use with clear instructions
- Odorless, economical and environmentally friendly
For more information about disinfectants, visit the CDC’s guide.
Perform hand hygiene. Before disinfecting any device, you must wash your hands per CDC recommendations and wear clean (not necessarily sterile) gloves. You should also perform basic hand hygiene before cleaning any visible soiling on the device, which you should do before disinfecting.
Start at the top. For computers, begin with the top of the display monitor and work your way down to the keyboard and mouse, and finish with the cables. Be sure the wipe you’re using is damp the whole time, and remember that keyboard protectors must be disinfected also.
Follow the wipe’s instructions. You should wipe down the surfaces that you’re disinfecting based on the contact time (how long a chemical must remain in contact with a microorganism to inactivate it) specified by the wipe manufacturer. Make sure the wipe is damp the entire time, and replace it if necessary. When you’re done, allow the device to air dry, remove your gloves and wash your hands again.
Disinfect devices at least once a day. In settings with high patient acuity, high patient load, or when devices are handled by more than one provider, increase this to at least once a shift. Clean stationary computers (those in patient or procedural rooms) with the same frequency as other environmental surfaces. Portable devices should be cleaned between patients.
Also keep in mind:
- Perform good hand hygiene before and after using an electronic device.
- Avoid wearing gloves when using IT equipment.
- Protect items that are difficult to disinfect with cleanable covers.
- Do not used compressed air to clean keyboards and other equipment.
Individual clinicians and administrators should certainly be responsible for cleaning devices in the same way they actively try to mitigate infections in patients. But it’s also the responsibility of higher-level staff to develop and enforce cleaning protocols. Appropriate training is necessary, as well.
Infection prevention and control recommendations: cleaning and disinfecting computers, displays, and accessories used in healthcare settings, Hewlett Packard, via American Nurse Today.
Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Practice Recommendations: Infection Prevention and Control Related to Electronic (IT) Devices in Healthcare Settings, Infection Prevention and Control Canada.