In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Amy Johnson, RLATG, LVT, CVJ, Manager of Content Development at VETgirl, introduces the concept of an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) and stresses why every veterinary practice should have one. What is an ICP? Find out with this VETgirl Blog!
Infection Control Practitioner for the Win
What is an ICP?
Infection control in every veterinary practice is of utmost importance. Not only are there implications to the quality of medicine we practice, but there are also financial, legal, and reputation implications. An effective infection control program involves everyone in the practice. Still, some may have a bigger role in putting that plan together, implementing the program, and making sure everyone on the team is prepared to step up to the role they play.
For an infection control plan to work to its fullest, practice leadership needs to identify, empower, and support those people with the bigger roles. An Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) is one of those roles that need to be created. This is a role first recognized and named by The American Animal Hospital Association in the 2018 AAHA Infection Control, Prevention, and Biosecurity Guidelines.
The administration of an infection control program can be complex and involve many moving pieces. The Infection Control Practitioner will work with the leadership and the practice team to execute the plan. Leadership must give the ICP the appropriate amount of time during working hours to organize and implement a plan and support them in their efforts.
The role of the ICP is to be the champion of your infection control program by organizing, training, and facilitating conversations. The ICP should not be working in a silo or going into this new endeavor thinking they are alone and need to have all of the answers. The ICP needs to be the go-to person, but when they cannot answer a question or is unsure of a process, they need to call in the experts and know where to go to get the answers.
Who can be an ICP?
The ICP can be anyone in your practice, no matter what their role, but who is more prepared for the role than a veterinary technician? Vet techs have knowledge of microorganisms, disinfection and sterility, and infection transmission.
Pro Tip: Choose your most motivated go-getting germaphobe!
Tasks of the ICP
The ICP will begin by doing an initial assessment of the practice and its current infection control efforts. With this assessment, protocols and improvements can be suggested and explored.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of all of your resources. Ask for help from manufacturer/distributor representatives.
Creating Protocols and a Manual:
All protocols and plan documentation should be stored together as a manual for easy access and reference. Once protocols are written and signed off on by the leadership, the ICP will organize them and all other plan documentation into that Infection Control Manual. They will also be responsible for any updates to the manual when protocols are updated or products are changed.
Pro Tip: Digital storage in the cloud makes it easy for anyone to access the manuals from anywhere in the practice.
Most infection control mistakes stem from a lack of proper training. The ICP will work with practice leadership to determine the necessary training protocols. Once the training has occurred, the ICP should organize documentation.
Pro Tip: Training should consist of the use of printed educational materials, and have the team members sign off on the receipt of these materials and the training.
The ICPs’ role does not stop at the initial training. The ICP, with the help of leadership, should also be evaluating the skills of team members, constructively coaching, and retraining as necessary. They will continue to monitor how well the team is following the protocols put in place and evaluate protocols if they are consistently not being followed.
Pro Tip – If there is inconsistent compliance, look at the product. Is the product too difficult to use? Does the disinfection take too long? There may be a better product that your team could use with more compliance.
Quality Control & Surveillance:
As the common quote from Peter Drucker states, “You cannot manage what you don’t measure.” It is easy to say, “My practice is not contaminated with a (fill in specific organism here),” but if you are not testing for that pathogen, you cannot say with certainty that it is not there. This lack of measurement or certainty is why a successful infection control program will incorporate quality control and environmental surveillance as a way of measuring the success or identifying the challenges of the program.
Pro Tip: Quality control and surveillance logs are a must. These logs will help the practice track values, quickly spot deviations in results, and can be an essential way of proving the infection control efforts made by the practice in the event of an outbreak or other adverse event.
Developing Communication Plans:
There is a lot of communication that needs to happen surrounding the infection control efforts made by your veterinary practice. The ICP should help create these communication plans and train the practice team.
Pro Tip: Write scripts for the practice’s CSR team so they can communicate effectively and accurately with clients bringing potentially contagious patients in.
Product Selection & Product Expert:
The ICP will work with leadership and vendors to select the proper disinfectant for each situation based on the practice’s needs. Things to be considered would be pathogens seen in the area, the finishes (metal, wood, concrete, etc.) in your practice, and the scheduling in the practice. Disinfectant qualities like contact time, toxicity, and overall ease of use need to be considered when picking products. Once the products are chosen, protocols need to be put in place so everyone in the practice knows what products should be used in what situation and how to use them.
Pro Tip: Always remember that something easy to use will have the best compliance.
Infection control falls on everyone in the veterinary practice, regardless of their role. By designating an ICP, the practice is prioritizing its infection control program and putting someone in place to focus efforts on those plans. The ICP will work with everyone on the team to help ensure the program succeeds. Patients, clients, and team members will all benefit from the creation and support of this position.