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Personal hygiene has been one of the most significant contributors to enhancing the quality and length of human lives. Better hygiene and sterilization have led to better medicine, which allowed us to defeat many illnesses over the last century.
As many diseases can be transmitted through touch, handwashing is at the forefront of countermeasures to curb the spread of infections. Clean hands are so crucial that handwashing is required not only for operating rooms but before and after a health-care worker interacts with a patient in a waiting room. Frequent handwashing is a part of the standard operating procedure in every hospital worldwide to reduce health-care-acquired infections (HAI).
The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the importance of personal hygiene via handwashing as it is possible to spread the novel coronavirus through touch. Those often in areas where the risk of infection is higher than usual must do all they can to mitigate the spread. Reducing the need to touch surfaces eliminates the risk of transmission through touch.
Aside from improvements in hygiene, advances in technology contribute to enhancing the quality and length of our lives. Many of those technologies aid health-care professionals while caring for patients. Sensor plumbing products, which allow for a touchless experience, are one type of product taking hygiene and improving it with technology.
Touchless plumbing technology isn't new. It has been around for decades. The fact that sensor faucets and flush valves have survived in the market all this time shows that the technology isn't a gimmick but rather the trend for the future.
Constant improvements to the manufacturing processes, materials and mechanisms of touchless plumbing products make them more reliable than ever. Thoughtful innovation brings forth features for a wide range of specialized applications. Different health-care facilities share quite a few similarities when it comes to their plumbing needs.
While health-care facilities are expected to prioritize sanitation, certain areas don't need to be as sterile as surgical rooms. However, personal hygiene is just as important in general lavatories as human biowaste is among the densest concentrations of bacteria and microbes that can cause infections through touch.
Touch is riskier in lavatories as they are used throughout the day by multiple people who may not practice proper hygiene, leaving potentially infectious samples throughout the restroom. Touchless faucets are already quite standard in commercial lavatories in many types of facilities because they provide a hygienic and convenient way to wash hands and contribute to water conservation as they are metering by design.
As common as touchless faucets already are in lavatories, there are some considerations when choosing the right sensor faucet for a lavatory:
• Ease of installation. Time is money. An extra couple of minutes installing a faucet doesn't seem that bad for the one or two lavatories in a smaller facility such as a clinic. But those additional minutes potentially add up to hours when there are hundreds of faucets to install in a hospital.
Sensor faucets generally come in two types: conventional designs with a below-deck control box or an above-deck design. In this case, above-deck designs can save time on installation as there isn't a separate component to mount below the sink.
• Ease and cost of maintenance. Anything that is used will experience wear and tear. Sensor faucets contain moving parts with a finite lifespan. Considering the cost of the parts needing replacement will save money down the line. The adage "Time is money" applies here regarding ease of maintenance; faucets that take longer to fix will add up in facilities with more lavatories.
Again, above-deck faucet designs typically offer easier access when it comes to repairing or replacing components for maintenance.
• Vandal resistance. Vandalism may not be a glaring issue in health-care facilities, but it is not nonexistent. In general use lavatories, it is impossible to know everyone's disposition who uses a particular restroom.
Another thing to consider is vandalism may be unintentional. The enhanced durability provided by vandal-resistant features protects against the unexpected. Features playing a role in vandal resistance include all-metal construction, armored control cables and armored water supply lines.
Faucets in patient rooms are mainly used for handwashing, requiring the same considerations as lavatory faucets. However, patient room faucets also must provide some extra light utility functionality that isn't expected from lavatory faucets.
You will typically find that patient room faucets are gooseneck faucets. Sensor gooseneck faucets provide extra space under the spout, allowing for an additional utility that lavatory faucets don't offer. Aside from the extra space under the tap, temperature mixing is generally required of these faucets. Even with sensor faucets where there is the ability to adjust the temperature, an ADA-compliant wrist blade handle must be used.
Another consideration is using a laminar flow control device. Unlike aerators that mix the output water stream with air, laminar flow control devices produce crystal clear, nonsplashing streams that are 100 percent water. Laminar flow is more sanitary than aerators because typical aerators pull in the surrounding air into the water stream.
In lavatories, this usually isn't a problem. In a patient room where the chances of infectious particles in the air are higher than in other areas, aerators may contribute to disease spread. Combining the laminar flow's hygienic attributes with a touchless activation makes the patient room sink one less likely vector for an HAI.
An additional feature to improve a sensor faucet's usefulness in a patient room is a mechanical override feature that allows a user to bypass the sensor and keep the water flowing for instances where an uninterrupted flow is required.
Laboratory tests must be run to determine the cause of some ailments. Clinical laboratories are standard in hospitals and medical centers, with some private laboratory services in standalone facilities.
While not patient-facing, the need for a sterile environment may at times be more important here than in patient rooms. Contamination of samples may invalidate results. Just as importantly, being contaminated by a sample will require a quick and convenient response. Touchless faucets can fulfill the requirement while preventing further cross-contamination of the environment.
In addition to handwashing, laboratory faucets may need to be used for other duties in various laboratory tasks such as filling containers (beakers, flasks and test tubes). In this case, having a mechanical override, especially one where the water flow's strength can be controlled, is preferred.
Surgical Scrub Sinks
Surgical scrub sinks may be, at their base level, a handwashing station but one with much larger implications than your typical lavatory. The sterilization needed for surgical procedures goes beyond the application of only soap and water; environmental considerations also must be made.
These scrub sinks are usually stainless steel or other approved antimicrobial alloy. They have a shape that minimizes water splashing and includes hands-free technology via sensor or other hands-free interfaces (i.e., foot pedal or knee plate). When it comes to the sensor, how is it best applied to these types of sinks? What considerations must be made when considering a sensor faucet for a surgical scrub sink?
The sensor gooseneck faucet chosen for this sink must function during loss of normal power. This usually means a battery-powered faucet or a hardwired faucet with battery backup.
A 2011 study published by Johns Hopkins University pointed to sensor faucets possibly being a cause for the spread of dangerous bacteria such as Legionella. The study postulated that certain internal components of sensor faucets tend to harbor bacteria, which can spread when using the faucet.
Since the study was published, experts now believe the harboring of bacteria is due more to the stagnation of water in the piping when the faucet isn't in use. It is essential to select a sensor faucet with a line purge feature, where the faucet will turn itself on for a short time periodically to remove any stagnant water from the lines.
Scrubbing down is relatively straight forward, but differences in use still exist. It's common for surgeons scrubbing down to want the water to stay on. While a manual override feature can accomplish this, it is not considered ideal as this feature typically needs to be activated by hand or arm.
A practical approach is installing a sensor faucet with an adjustable sensor to modify how far the faucet can detect a presence. Adjusting the sensitivity out to a body in front of the sink can accomplish this by keeping the faucet on while someone is positioned in front of the sink. This allows customization to optimize for each particular use case.
Touchless faucet technology was born out of a need for more convenience and hygiene in our lives. Predictably, sensor faucets fulfilling those requirements made them ideal for health care. While other faucets may fit the bill just fine, reducing touch as a vector of transmission is an obvious benefit to health-care facilities' overall effectiveness.