Polyurethanes: Tackling disease and sustainability

Running a hospital is a difficult job. The constant flow of people, doctors, admin, patients, you name it, within its corridors would make even the head of world-famous nurse Florence Nightingale spin. Quick and efficient movement, however, is key to success and saving lives, but, and here in lies the headache for Deans of Medicine, also presents some of the main obstacles faced by the health care industry.

Nosocomial infections are a huge problem for hospitals. When a patient is admitted for treatment, nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections may develop from contact with other patients, hospital staff or contaminated objects; many of these infections are by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and can have serious consequences for the individual, who already face reduced resistance from being sick. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1.7 million nosocomial infections develop annually and contribute to 99,000 deaths; in Europe, roughly 25,000 deaths.

The problem is exacerbated by the fluid nature of hospitals, where millions of people worldwide move in-and-out of contact with each other. It is this very nature that makes nosocomial infections a prevalent rather than passing concern, and it is this very nature that has led to health care professionals to think of innovative solutions.

Doctor uses iPad in medical consultation.New polyurethane iPad covers are gaining traction amongst hospital staff in an effort to further cut down the spread of infections in hospitals. iPads and other touchscreen devices, increasingly being used in hospitals, have been linked to cross contamination risks for patients and practitioners. With this in mind, scientists developed 100 per cent waterproof, disinfectable and washable polyurethane iPad covers. “Controlling the environment is important to prevent diseases spreading”, says University of North Carolina Professor of Infectious Diseases Dr William Rutala, given that “we pick up pathogens at the same level by touching the environment as we do by touching the patient”. The polyurethane covers, unlike bulky cases, are completely invisible, form-fitting and “break the infection chain” by preserving the original design and making the device impervious to contamination. The use of polyurethane means doctors could even go swimming with their iPads, “not that going swimming and going to perform a surgical procedure should carry similar significance, but then, that’s the beauty of one size fits all”.

The safe use of touchscreen devices in the health care industry has also allowed for hospitals to address another adversary: paper. Hospitals, in order to keep track of the constant flow of people, use endless amounts of paper. Maintaining electronic health records for patients has resulted not only in a more sustainable hospital with a lot less paper floating around, but also in saved money and decreased medication errors.

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