Infection Control: Why simple labels play a key role in protecting patients

Infection control in hospitals and medical settings has always been crucial to helping protect patients. With the outbreak of Covid-19, it has made this challenge even tougher for medical professionals working in the NHS, as practices and procedures have had to become even more robust to ensure patient safety.

Here Mike Houghton, Commercial Manager at Able Systems which provides print and labelling solutions to NHS Trusts and other hospital settings, talks about how such a small thing like labels can make a big difference to infection control.

Infection control has always been vital within a medical setting. But when there’s a global pandemic – it’s importance is heightened even further. Covid-19 has dramatically changed the way we all live and for every business, place of work, public service and home, we have all had to introduce social distancing and step up cleaning regimes to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Although restrictions for most parts of the UK have and continue to be eased, we’re still washing our hands more than ever, avoiding cash payments, encouraging delivery drivers to leave items at the door, doing our weekly shop with face masks on – and much more.

When it comes to medical settings, this is nothing new but due to the fact that hospitals and GP practices are looking after vulnerable people affected by many conditions – the importance to control the spread of infection is of course one of their top priorities.


The little things count

All aspects of a patient’s care have to be considered when controlling the spread of infection. Every virus is different, so its rate of transmission and how it spreads will depend on the individual disease. There are two main types of transmission, person-to-person and surface-to-person. Take Covid-19 as an example. Research has made it clear that transmission through droplets in the air has been the main way the virus has been spreading but there is still evidence that indicates that the virus can survive on surfaces for quite a significant period of time.

According to this research[1], Covid-19 tends to survive longest on plastic and stainless steel surfaces – potentially up to three days, while on other surfaces like cardboard it can still be transmitted to a person 24 hours after its first contact with the surface. The virus degrades quite rapidly over time however. At the end of the three-day mark where the virus could still be infectious off a surface, less than 0.1% of the starting virus material could be found.

For the NHS, GP practices and private healthcare settings, they have had to consider everything when it comes to the spread of infection within their environment. Even the simplest of things that could be overlooked have to be considered like using labels to monitor and update patients’ bedside records over the use of mobile devices.


The use of mobile devices

Like in all walks of life, mobile devices, smartphones and tablets have brought major benefits to our personal and working lives. In medical settings it is no different. These devices have been introduced to support doctors and nurses with patient care, research and for bedside records. Although devices are linked to improved communication within medical settings, which is of course vital to the overall wellbeing of patients, devices become another way for infection to spread. In 2019, NHS Wales conducted research[2] into mobile device use in hospital settings and set out a policy to ensure the safe use of them. It stated that manufacturer protocols for decontamination of most frequently used devices were not sufficient enough to address the risks of transmission within a healthcare setting.

The research also recognised that the increasing use of mobile devices has posed a unique challenge to medical facilities. Devices are frequently touched by healthcare workers, with or without gloves, and can be used across multiple rooms for multiple patients. This means they could serve as a way to transmit infection. It means healthcare professionals should be thinking about ways they can minimise the use of devices for patient management.


Labels can help protect patients

Using labels may be deemed more traditional when compared with mobile devices for patient care but they certainly still play a role. For lab testing, ensuring a patient’s allergies, dietary requirements and medication are accurately recorded is critical. Thermal printing is one way that medical professionals can use labels without having to worry about illegible handwriting or using a device at the bedside that could aid the spread of infection.

In fact a study in 2017[3], which studied 300 prescriptions handwritten by doctors, found only 82 per cent of nurses could accurately read them and an even lower number (75 per cent) of pharmacists could. Indicating why other methods like thermal printing should be seriously considered –  as the accuracy of medical information is crucial to a patient’s care.

And mobiles, computer keyboards and other devices harbor bacteria and viruses. One report suggests smart devices are seven times more unhygienic than a toilet. A surprising stat but one that indicates why medical professionals shouldn’t become overly reliant on mobile devices. Even with a robust cleaning routine in place, using labels for patient records can help to reduce that risk of infection even further.

Able Systems  provides print and labelling solutions to NHS Trusts and other hospital settings, for more information visit: