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Helping Providers Learn by Doing
Q&A with Pam Falk, MPH, CIC, longtime clinical educator on the unique challenges of outpatient infection control.
Publish Date: May 23, 2022   |  Tags:   Opinion Infection Prevention Staff Training and Education
Pam Faulk
What is the biggest difference between inpatient and outpatient infection prevention?
Generally, there isn’t a playbook for the outpatient setting. If you become an infection preventionist for the inpatient world, there’s online training, a competency skills list and things are standardized. In outpatient surgery, that isn’t always the case. Most clinicians who oversee outpatient infection prevention have several years of inpatient experience to build on and apply it to the surgical setting. Several years ago, when I developed a module to help providers learn how to be an outpatient infection preventionist, I remember people in message boards posting things like, “Help! I just got assigned outpatient infection prevention, and I don’t know what to do.” It’s gotten better, but providers still have a lot to learn — and not a lot to find. Many of them need to learn it on their own.

Is that what you were trying to address with the ‘Outpatient Infection Prevention’ skills lab you created for APIC?
Yes. You can’t find what you need to know to do the job in a book. It’s got to be a learned experience, so I took about 20 different very tangible aspects of the job and I talked about each of them for a couple of minutes. At the same time, I also gave my students an object to hold during the discussion. For instance, I gave one student an aerator and said, “What is this?” She didn’t know that it’s something you put on a faucet to filter the water, and these are the types of things you should know because these devices can get clogged with different kinds of bacteria such as pseudomonas or Legionella. It’s the job of an infection preventionist to have a policy in place about the use of aerators.

How can surgical leaders help to ensure infection control gets the attention it deserves?
There needs to be somebody on staff dedicated to the practice. You can’t have a staffer wearing five different hats with one of those being infection control. They also need proper training. Just because you give somebody a title doesn’t mean they know what’s going on or what they’re doing. Give your infection preventionists the opportunity and the time to go to educational seminars, conferences and training.

Based on what you’ve seen, will we be ready when the next pandemic hits?
I hate to say it, but probably not. People initially struggled with understanding how COVID-19 was transmitted. It’s been well documented that it’s transferred through droplets and aerosol particles, something you combat with tactics like social distancing and mask wearing. I think the next pandemic will involve something like bird flu, a respiratory disease that’s airborne. People don’t understand the transmission of these diseases and too many don’t want to listen to public health officials. OSM

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