The Importance of Patient Notification and CORHA’s HAI Outbreak Notification Framework (Part 1)
Posted: May 19, 2022
Authors: Maureen Tierney, MD, MSc., FIDSA, Moon Kim, MD, MPH, & Dawn Terashita, MD, MPH
Patient notification is at the forefront now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CORHA Policy Workgroup has been working to develop an HAI Outbreak Notification Framework to help assist health departments and facilities with the process of notifying patients and providers during outbreaks. In this post, we will be discussing the importance of notification and the benefits to everyone involved. Check back soon for part two, where we will discuss the HAI Outbreak Notification Framework in more detail.
Notifying patients about outbreaks enables them to make informed decisions about their health and take actions to protect themselves. Transparency promotes confidence and increased trust between patients and providers, making clear and transparent communication key. Patients want and need to be informed of potential impacts on their health and wellbeing and we have personally heard from facilities that patients and their families generally appreciate transparency about outbreaks. Patients appreciate providers discussing risks, the impact on their care, information on how to protect themselves, and what the facility is doing to prevent new infections.
Although the circumstances surrounding outbreaks vary, communication needs to be truthful, clear, and timely. Ideally notification should be done as soon as an outbreak has been identified so changes or enhancements in infection control practices can be adhered to by patients, visitors, and healthcare providers. Outbreak control measures can impact patients, visitors, and healthcare personnel and often include actions like case finding, immediate implementation of strict hand hygiene, enhanced environmental cleaning, personal protective equipment use, or patient isolation. It’s also important that as additional information becomes available, it is communicated to the affected groups. Outbreaks are complex, so acknowledging what is known and what is still unknown, can also help educate individuals regarding risks and actions to prevent further transmission.
Communicating timely, accurate information can address inaccuracies and help stop further transmission. On the other hand, with poor communication, people could take inappropriate or unnecessary actions – like not seeking care or delaying necessary care – or feel they had been misled if information regarding their care is withheld. Another common dilemma occurs when a large number of people may need to be notified about a longstanding error in sterilizing instruments, but the likelihood of individual patient exposure is uncertain, and the risk of infection could be very low. These are just a few of the tough communication challenges faced regarding patient notification.