Bacteria are everywhere, and some are good for us while others are harmful. That’s why minimizing our exposure to harmful bacteria when undergoing medical procedures is so important. Healthcare providers regularly use aseptic techniques to achieve this.
Aseptic technique is a method designed to prevent contamination from microorganisms. It involves applying the strictest rules and utilizing what is known about infection prevention to minimize the risks that you’ll experience an infection. Common settings where the aseptic technique is used include surgery rooms, clinics, and outpatient care centers.
Aseptic technique is used in various clinical settings to prevent the spread of pathogens. The primary goal of the aseptic technique is to prevent harmful organisms from spreading and causing infection.
Aseptic technique is commonly used in the following situations:
- handling surgery equipment
- during vaginal labor
- accessing dialysis catheters
- performing dialysis
- inserting a chest tube
- inserting a urinary catheter
- inserting central intravenous (IV) or arterial lines
- inserting other draining devices
- performing various surgical techniques
According to The Joint Commission, there are four chief aspects of the aseptic technique. Each plays an important role in infection prevention and includes:
Barriers are used during medical procedures to protect the patient from contamination that can come from a healthcare worker, the environment, or both. Some examples of barriers used in aseptic technique include:
- sterile gloves
- sterile gowns
- sterile drapes
Sterile materials are those that have not touched a contaminated surface. They’re specially packaged and cleaned items that are put on in a way that minimizes exposure to germs.
Patient and Equipment Preparation
Not only do healthcare providers use sterile barriers, but they also use sterile equipment. This includes sterile instruments and equipment. Cleansing and bacteria-killing preparations are also applied to the skin before a procedure.
Maintaining a sterile environment requires keeping doors closed during an operation. Only necessary health personnel should be at the procedure. The more people present, the more opportunities for harmful bacteria to cause contamination.
Once healthcare providers have on their sterile equipment, they should only touch other sterile items. They should avoid touching nonsterile items at all costs.
To imagine these techniques in action, consider the process for inserting an indwelling urinary catheter. These catheters drain urine from the bladder. Because catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) are a serious health concern, inserting these requires aseptic techniques.
When a doctor inserts a catheter, he or she wears sterile gloves and opens sterile packaging that contains the catheter. The skin is prepared with a special solution. The catheter itself is sterile. The doctor takes great care not to touch the hand that advances the catheter into the urethra to any nonsterile surface.
If even one part of the catheter insertion doesn’t involve aseptic techniques, a person can easily get an infection.
Aseptic vs. Clean
Keeping the environment as clean as possible is always important in preventing infections. However, some situations call for aseptic technique while others call for clean techniques. Clean techniques are important for all healthcare providers and their patients because they prevent infections on a daily basis.
Examples of clean techniques include washing hands and applying clean gloves when needed. A person’s surroundings are kept as clean as possible, but “sterile” items or techniques aren’t being used.
Clean techniques are commonly used in the following situations:
- administering an injection
- emptying a urinary catheter drainage bag
- giving a bed bath
- inserting a peripheral IV (an IV in a smaller vein)
- removing a peripheral IV line
- removing an indwelling urinary catheter
Healthcare providers learn both aseptic and clean techniques as part of their training. The goal of the aseptic technique is to eliminate germs entirely. The goal of the clean technique is to reduce the number of germs whenever possible.
While your home isn’t likely a surgery center, there may be a time when you or a loved one may require aseptic technique. An example of this could be a sterile dressing change for a wound.
It’s recommended that wounds with a high risk of infection be dressed with sterile materials. To change a sterile dressing, a person needs sterile gloves and a special dressing change kit or supplies.
It’s important to note that proper aseptic techniques require training. If you or a loved one requires a sterile dressing change, a healthcare specialist should demonstrate the techniques and have you practice them before doing them at home.
Whenever your skin is opened, you’re vulnerable to infection. This is why prompt treatment for burns and wounds is so critical. If the exposure is intentional, such as in surgery, you’re also at risk for infection. The way healthcare providers use aseptic techniques can determine whether or not you’ll develop an infection from your procedure.
Patients needing surgery or other procedures that require aseptic technique are already vulnerable to infections. They need their immune system to be at its strongest to heal the body. A person has a better chance of a recovery if they don’t have to fight off an acquired infection.
There are several common kinds of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) that healthcare workers try to minimize by using aseptic techniques. These include:
- CAUTIs (pronounced caught-EASE)
- central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs, pronounced clab-SEES)
- Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections
- surgical site infections
Each of these infections represents a major healthcare concern. Medical facilities are required to report their infection rates to the federal government. If their infection rates are too high, they can face disciplinary action.
HAIs cost healthcare facilities and, more importantly, patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 37,000 CLABSIs happen each year in people who get dialysis. This patient population often has multiple chronic conditions that can make getting over an infection even harder to do. Treating these infections costs an average of $23,000. Preventing the infection in the first place saves lives and money.
The outcome of aseptic technique depends on whether all procedures are thoroughly followed. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, 50 percent of HAIs are preventable.
Medical professionals are responsible for following clean and aseptic techniques. If you notice that a healthcare provider fails to wash hands or sterilize equipment, don’t be afraid to speak up. Doing so can help save you or a loved one from potentially fatal side effects.