Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital isolation procedures: Best ways to communicate with patients, families

Patients who require isolation during their hospital stay may become depressed and agitated, which can adversely affect their recovery – not to mention patient satisfaction scores. But with the right communication tools, this problem can be avoided.

EpidemicIsolation keeps the spread of contagious illnesses down in hospitals. With recent news about patients being admitted to the hospital with conditions like Ebola and enterovirus D68 (mostly seen in young children), along with high rates of communicable infections like C. diff, more and more patients may have to experience some form of isolation during their hospital stay.

And they usually aren’t happy about it.

The word “isolation” can conjure up images of solitary confinement, according to an article in U.S. News and World Report. It may hurt patients’ morale, which can hinder their recovery and lead to poor outcomes. So it’s key to get this impression out of patients’ minds.

Isolation info

First off, it’s important to explain the differences between the types of isolation to patients and their families. That way, they won’t get upset when a doctor comes in wearing a mask or they’re placed on a separate floor.

The article laid out a simplified explanation you can give to patients about each type:

  • Contact isolation. If a patient has an infection that can be spread by hand contact (like C. diff), staff members enter their hospital room wearing gowns and gloves. This can make patients feel strange, especially since this protocol is also followed in cases where a patient may not even have an infection, but has still been exposed to one (e.g., if a patient’s skin tests positive for MRSA, but the person has no signs of the infection).
  • Droplet isolation. Here, clinical staff members wear face masks and eye protection when treating patients who have illnesses that are spread through the air via “spray” droplets from coughs and sneezes. Patients with illnesses such as bacterial meningitis, flu and whooping cough are placed in this type of isolation.
  • Airborne isolation. This is what people generally think of when they hear the term “isolation.” Patients are placed in private rooms to control illnesses that are spread through the air. While hospitals typically have ventilation systems that keep these germs from spreading to other units and floors, these patients could spread their illness to a roommate. Clinical staff members protect themselves with special respirator masks or helmets with a personal air supply.

After giving patients and their families this basic info about the type of isolation they’ll be experiencing, it’s important to address their fears and concerns.

One state’s protocol

In addition, your hospital should have isolation procedures in place that are easy to understand so they don’t put the health of themselves and others in jeopardy.

The Washington State Hospital Association is a good example of a healthcare organization that’s worked to create uniform standards for patient isolation in its hospitals.

All hospitals in the state use the same procedures for isolation. Staff can give patients and their families color-coded fact sheets about each type of isolation. Information on these sheets includes a basic rundown of the type of isolation, the reasons why it’s necessary, and what patients and their families need to do to prevent germs from spreading throughout the hospital stay.

The state has also come up with a list of frequently asked questions clinical staff can distribute as well.

Why communication is important

Being proactive when it comes to letting patients know about isolation procedures, rather than just putting them in place with no explanation, can work wonders with making patients feel more at ease.

While the procedures may be familiar to workers who use them regularly, most patients don’t have the same perspective. So taking the time to let them know why isolation is a must with their illness can be critical to their well-being while in the hospital, which can have ripple effects down the line.

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