Waste management has always formed the core of infection prevention. The COVID-19 crisis brought this fact to the fore of every medical provider’s consciousness. Fluid waste disposal and basic suction catheter maintenance are not just boxes to check off on a form. They can mean the difference between life and death, between a pandemic spreading to others or stopping with you. These guidelines can help you manage fluid waste, protect your patients, and stop the spread of contagious infections.
The Perils of Improper Waste Management
Waste management can seem like a bureaucratic hassle, especially when it delays tending to your next patient. But without diligent management of medical waste, you can transmit infections from one patient to another, and sometimes even beyond—to children at home and to an entire hospital.
For example, if you suction a patient, remove the suction catheter, then put it somewhere to throw away “later,” everything that catheter touches will become contaminated. If another catheter comes into contact with it, then you’ve just transmitted any infections the original patient had to the next patient.
People in need of medical suctioning may already be vulnerable to infection, whether because of aspiration, weak immune systems, or airway trauma. Failing to use sterile, safe equipment needlessly exposes them to danger and your organization to liability.
How to Safely Manage Medical Suction Fluid Waste
These five principles can help you safely manage waste while reducing the spread of infection:
- Ensure that all collection bags and containers are properly labeled as medical waste and fully sealed. Dispose of them immediately, according to the guidelines your agency establishes.
- Be mindful of storage contamination. Storing dirty equipment for any length of time invites contamination. If you are not immediately able to dispose of contaminated equipment or waste, store it in a sealed, secure bag away from any equipment or other supplies that you, a patient, or another provider might come into contact with.
- Protect yourself while working with medical waste. Change gloves each time you come into contact with waste or change equipment. Wash hands after disposing of waste, as well as anytime you touch equipment that could be contaminated.
- Be mindful of splashes and other forms of contamination. For instance, if a patient vomits during suctioning and the fluid contaminates any equipment, all of that equipment must be sterilized.
- Never reuse equipment, no matter how rushed you are or how dire the emergency is. Proper storage of equipment can reduce the temptation to reuse it. Keep a variety of catheters and other disposables on hand so that they are accessible when you need them.
You must also treat yourself as a potential biohazard if you come into contact with a contaminated fluid. Consider how aerosolized particles from certain breathing treatments may get onto your clothing and how even microscopic splashes from vomit or blood can spread infection to you, your family, and beyond.
The Importance of the Right Equipment
Though many guidelines point to the role of human error in improper waste management, a recent report by Joint Commission International emphasizes that suction equipment itself can spread infections if it is poorly designed, broken, or improperly used. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never use equipment that is cracked, leaking, or otherwise visibly damaged.
Quality emergency suction allows you to tend to patients wherever you find them and without a time-consuming setup that increases the risk of infection transmission. SSCOR specializes in equipment that is usable, easily sterilized, and highly effective. For assistance choosing the right medical suction machine for your agency, download our free e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in July, 2020. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.