The Importance of Environmental Monitoring in Healthcare

An operating table with an ApexZ and AC100 for environmental monitoring.

Did you know that approximately 1 out of every 31 hospital patients in the U.S. are expected to contract a Healthcare-Associated Infection (HAI)? That’s right – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that this alarming number of patients contract an HAI every year, totaling almost 2 billion nosocomial infections and 90,000 deaths each year. Not only is this devastating for families, friends, staff, and the patients themselves, it exacts a fiscal toll, as well. These infections and deaths cost hospitals, health insurance companies, patients, and Medicare/Medicaid somewhere between $28 million and $45 million every year. 

There is one way to help prevent this, though: environmental monitoring.

What Is Environmental Monitoring?

Environmental monitoring is a broad term that encompasses controlling and documenting a building, room, or area’s surfaces and air cleanliness, temperature, humidity, and other noteworthy attributes. We use the term a lot for cleanrooms, where the environment is strictly monitored and maintained, but the term is equally applicable and important to healthcare settings.

While a hospital might now follow the same strict environmental controls of a cleanroom, there are still a number of critical environmental monitoring factors at play. For example, hospitals must maintain a humidity level of greater than 30% and operating rooms (ORs) in specific should maintain a humidity level between 20% and 60%. Humidity levels can impact the shelf life of medications, sterilization equipment, increase risk of wound infections, and more. 

This might have never even crossed your mind as something to consider in a hospital setting, but it’s an important factor when designing a hospital and its HVAC system. Another critical consideration is temperature. This one is more obvious to those in the hospital, as some areas are considerably cooler than others. 

A third demonstration of environmental monitoring (and maintenance) at work in hospitals is routine surface cleaning. The germs, bacteria, and particles shed onto these surfaces can quickly become a problem for patients and staff if not regularly cleaned. This is a regular practice in hospitals, but now you know you are participating in environmental monitoring!

These are 3 basic examples of environmental monitoring in healthcare and hospital settings, but environmental monitoring can become as complex as you’d like it to be, such as airflow strategy, positive and negative pressure, air filtration, and regular or continuous monitoring using particle counters. These strategies and applications are specific to airborne contaminants and particles. Filtering air and using airflow strategies can prevent contamination from escaping certain rooms or impacting high risk patients.

What Are The Environmental Monitoring Applications In A Hospital?

So where exactly do you see these practices put into place? Some of them, such as humidity level and temperature, are maintained throughout the whole building to some degree. In certain areas, they are adjusted to the applications of that specific area. Let’s take a look at a few areas in a hospital where we see environmental monitoring play a major role.

Operating Rooms

One of the most obvious examples of the importance of environmental monitoring in healthcare and hospital settings is the OR. Patients are at their most vulnerable when on the operating table and it’s important that environmental standards are kept to prevent infection. 

Operating rooms have highly controlled humidity, temperature, gowning, and surface contamination standards. They might use positive pressure technology to prevent airborne contaminants from getting into the room. This means that the air pressure in the OR is higher than the air pressure outside of the room. Thus, when a door is opened, air rushes out of the OR, preventing air with contaminants from getting into the room.

Temperature Sensitive Areas

In areas of the hospital where temperature sensitive medications are stored, extra attention should be paid to the environment. This includes refrigerators and refrigerated rooms, which should be temperature checked twice daily.

Food Services

For hospitals and healthcare settings where patients get meals, food services also must pay close attention to environmental standards! This mainly applies to temperature, as food has important temperature standards for both hot and cold foods. If food is going to be held for any length of time, the temperature should be in accordance with best practices.

Quarantine Units

Quarantine units were around long before COVID-19, but the pandemic resulted in rapidly building temporary quarantine units for masses of patients. These units provide a critical service to the entire hospital: keeping dangerous infections contained.

Opposite of ORs, quarantine units might use negative pressure technology. This means that the air pressure in the unit is lower than the air pressure in the surrounding hallway. Thus, when a door is opened, air rushes into the room or unit, keeping the germ-ridden air in the room and preventing it from escaping into the hallway.

Temperature and humidity in these areas should be strategic, as well as the airflow. The air that leaves the room should be filtered before being redistributed. The staff who enter these units carefully gown to protect themselves from the environment.

Intensive Care Units

On the other hand, ICU and other units dedicated to protecting critical patients attempt to keep harmful contaminants out of the room. Thus, ICUs might use positive pressure technology, the same as ORs. The staff who gown to enter these units are gowning to protect the patients from the contaminants they might put into the environment, instead of vice versa. 

How Do You Know Your Healthcare Environmental Monitoring Is Working?

If you go to great lengths to ensure your humidity, temperature, air contamination, and other important factors are controlled, you will want to make sure that those controls are working. The best way to do this is with sensors and particle counters. We recommend continuous monitoring, so as to ensure you are always meeting your criteria. Another option is periodically monitoring, but this allows for a large room of error and less confidence.

At the end of the day, environmental monitoring saves money, time, and lives. It is your best defense against HAIs and the costs that come with them – including human lives.

As the world’s clean air experts for over 40 years, LWS is excited to work with healthcare and hospitals to provide high quality PPE and environmental monitoring solutions to help you save lives. If you’re new to understanding cleanrooms, particle counting, and environmental monitoring, check out our Knowledge Center to learn more!

Table of Contents