With flu season just around the corner, now is a great time to come clean with your physician customers. Clean hands, that is. One of the first questions medical products distributor reps should ask their customers is, “What are you doing to protect yourself, your staff and your patients from infection?” Indeed, with the heightened awareness of seasonal and swine flu and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the demand for hand hygiene products has been on the rise in recent years, according to experts. Still, it’s up to reps to ensure their customers are doing all they should to prevent the spread of disease.
But, physician practices are not governed by the same hand hygiene guidelines as hospitals, nor do they have dedicated infection prevention specialists. So, even if the awareness is there, the effort may be lax.
The first point of hand sanitation should be at the front desk, according to experts. In offices that still rely on paper files, sick patients sign in and update their patient history before the nurse takes their file to the exam room, the lab and back to the front desk. Infectious diseases, such as common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Gels, foams and soaps
Two major types of organisms reside on the skin: resident, or everyday flora, and transient flora, or contaminants. Hand hygiene is a general term that refers to the removal of transient flora through handwashing, alcohol-based handrubs, antiseptic handwashes and surgical hand hygiene. Physician practices and other healthcare settings generally need both soap/water solutions and gels/foams. Although foams, gels and rubs do remove germs, they can leave soil behind. When soil is visible on the hands, caregivers should use soap and water to loosen soil particles embedded in the skin. Also, when caregivers come into contact with C. difficile patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends they use soap and water.
Therefore, the CDC recommends that, whenever possible, physicians and caregivers should wash their hands for 30 or 40 seconds with an antimicrobial soap. In reality, though, many providers are overworked, coping with dry, irritated hands or unable to step away from sick patients, and they neglect to do so. For this reason, it is imperative for reps to offer physicians a range of hand hygiene products, from soaps to alcohol-based gels and foams.
When it is not possible for physicians and their staff to properly wash their hands, experts recommend they use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with an alcohol content ranging from 60 to 95 percent. But, 62 to 65 percent alcohol content is required to keep the hands moist enough for 12 to 15 seconds, which is necessary for the product to be effective. And, it makes sense that users will prefer a pleasant-smelling hand sanitizer. Today’s hand sanitizers are said to contain better emoluments (to help prevent skin dryness) and a greater variety of scents.
Physicians and their staff should know that when it comes to selecting soaps, it pays off to invest in the right product. So, while the office manager may find a great bargain at the local Target or Costco, they may not be purchasing the most effective product. And, often, they wind up paying more at a retail store for smaller quantities of non-medical-grade products.
There are four basic types of soap:
- Non-medicated soaps with no killing agents (offered over the counter).
- Antibacterial soaps (offered over the counter). These may contain some killing agents, but they are not considered strong enough for a medical environment.
- Antimicrobial soaps. These broad spectrum hand cleansers contain agents strong enough to kill microorganisms and are considered suitable for medical environments.
- Surgical scrubs. These products, designed to kill the broadest spectrum of microorganisms, are very harsh on the skin and generally are not necessary for standard physician practices.
Editor’s note: Repertoire would like to acknowledge the assistance of HealthLink. To read about tips on how to sell hand hygiene products, click here, or wait for part two of the blog series.