Infection control sidelined in rush to mobile?

Mobile phones infected with software viruses may be top of mind for you these days. But perhaps you should think a bit more about the live viruses (and other germs) that may be hanging around on your clinicians' smartphones, according to mobile blogger David Doherty, author of mHealth Insight.

Real-life virus control has gotten short-shrift in the past year, as apps, plug-ins and other smartphone devices have proliferated, he says. In particular, he slams the Stanford University's new OScan, a dental imaging plug-in for iPhones (profiled in this week's newsletter) as a hygiene accident waiting to happen.

The problem is having a multi-use device that's placed in multiple patients' mouths, particularly when it's being done in developing nations like India, where Stanford will be doing its primary device testing.

"I have a genuine concern that the practice being suggested here could expose patients and care providers to a risk of infection and illness that may be greater than the positive health benefits of the screening procedure," Doherty says. "Even if the patients you are 'treating' are very poor and unrepresented, you should be providing them with a device that is sterilized between patients OR is single use/disposable."

The solution seems to be an old-school one, however--be sure clinicians wash their hands. A study in the July 2011 American Journal of Infection Control noted that it was visitor and patient-owned devices that were the most contaminated, not physician- or nurse-owned phones. The conclusion was that clinicians were more likely to wash their hands, and thus not transfer germs to their phones in the first place.

Another small study conducted in Thailand last year also found a relatively simple solution--alcohol-based wipes that appeared to do a solid job of controlling contamination.

Are these solutions that could allay Doherty's fears about smartphone/plug-in use in healthcare settings in the developing world? We'll be interested to see.

To learn more:
- read the mHealth Insight blog

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