Bacteria are everywhere, and some are good for us
while others are harmful. That’s why minimizing our exposure to harmful
bacteria when undergoing medical procedures is so important. Healthcare
providers regularly use aseptic techniques to achieve this.
Aseptic technique is a method designed to prevent
contamination from microorganisms. It involves applying the strictest rules and
utilizing what is known about infection prevention to minimize the risks that
you’ll experience an infection. Common settings where the aseptic technique is
used include surgery rooms, clinics, and outpatient care centers.
What Is Aseptic Technique Used for?
Aseptic technique is used in various clinical settings to
prevent the spread of pathogens. The primary goal of the aseptic technique is
to prevent harmful organisms from spreading and causing infection.
Aseptic technique is commonly used in the following
- handling surgery equipment
- during vaginal labor
- accessing dialysis catheters
- performing dialysis
- inserting a chest tube
- inserting a urinary catheter
- inserting central intravenous (IV) or arterial lines
- inserting other draining devices
- performing various surgical techniques
Aseptic Technique Aspects
According to The
Joint Commission, there are four chief aspects of the aseptic technique.
Each plays an important role in infection prevention and includes:
Barriers are used during medical procedures to protect the
patient from contamination that can come from a healthcare worker, the
environment, or both. Some examples of barriers used in aseptic technique
- sterile gloves
- sterile gowns
- sterile drapes
Sterile materials are those that have not touched a contaminated
surface. They’re specially packaged and cleaned items that are put on in a way
that minimizes exposure to germs.
Patient and Equipment Preparation
Not only do healthcare providers use sterile barriers, but they
also use sterile equipment. This includes sterile instruments and equipment.
Cleansing and bacteria-killing preparations are also applied to the skin before
Maintaining a sterile environment requires keeping doors
closed during an operation. Only necessary health personnel should be at the
procedure. The more people present, the more opportunities for harmful bacteria
to cause contamination.
Once healthcare providers have on their sterile equipment,
they should only touch other sterile items. They should avoid touching nonsterile
items at all costs.
To imagine these techniques in action, consider the process
for inserting an indwelling urinary catheter. These catheters drain urine from
the bladder. Because catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) are
a serious health concern, inserting these requires aseptic techniques.
When a doctor inserts a catheter, he or she wears sterile
gloves and opens sterile packaging that contains the catheter. The skin is
prepared with a special solution. The catheter itself is sterile. The doctor
takes great care not to touch the hand that advances the catheter into the
urethra to any nonsterile surface.
If even one part of the catheter insertion doesn’t involve
aseptic techniques, a person can easily get an infection.
Aseptic Technique vs. Clean Technique
Keeping the environment as clean as possible is always
important in preventing infections. However, some situations call for aseptic
technique while others call for clean techniques. Clean techniques are
important for all healthcare providers and their patients because they prevent
infections on a daily basis.
Examples of clean techniques include washing hands and
applying clean gloves when needed. A person’s surroundings are kept as clean as
possible, but “sterile” items or techniques aren’t being used.
Clean techniques are commonly used in the following
- administering an injection
- emptying a urinary catheter drainage bag
- giving a bed bath
- inserting a peripheral IV (an IV in a smaller
- removing a peripheral IV line
- removing an indwelling urinary catheter
Healthcare providers learn both aseptic and clean techniques
as part of their training. The goal of the aseptic technique is to eliminate
germs entirely. The goal of the clean technique is to reduce the number of
germs whenever possible.
Aseptic Technique at Home
While your home isn’t likely a surgery center, there may be
a time when you or a loved one may require aseptic technique. An example of
this could be a sterile dressing change for a wound.
It’s recommended that wounds with a high risk of infection
be dressed with sterile materials. To change a sterile dressing, a person needs
sterile gloves and a special dressing change kit or supplies.
It’s important to note that proper aseptic techniques
require training. If you or a loved one requires a sterile dressing change, a
healthcare specialist should demonstrate the techniques and have you practice
them before doing them at home.
Aseptic Technique Benefits
Whenever your skin is opened, you’re vulnerable to
infection. This is why prompt treatment for burns and wounds is so critical. If
the exposure is intentional, such as in surgery, you’re also at risk for
infection. The way healthcare providers use aseptic techniques can determine
whether or not you’ll develop an infection from your procedure.
Patients needing surgery or other procedures that require
aseptic technique are already vulnerable to infections. They need their immune
system to be at its strongest to heal the body. A person has a better chance of
a recovery if they don’t have to fight off an acquired infection.
Aseptic Technique Complications
There are several common kinds of healthcare-associated
infections (HAIs) that healthcare workers try to minimize by using aseptic
techniques. These include:
- CAUTIs (pronounced caught-EASE)
- central line-associated bloodstream infections
(CLABSIs, pronounced clab-SEES)
difficile (C. diff) infections
- surgical site infections
Each of these infections represents a major healthcare
concern. Medical facilities are required to report their infection rates to the
federal government. If their infection rates are too high, they can face
HAIs cost healthcare facilities and, more importantly,
patients. According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 37,000 CLABSIs
happen each year in people who get dialysis. This patient population often has
multiple chronic conditions that can make getting over an infection even harder
to do. Treating these infections costs an average of $23,000. Preventing the
infection in the first place saves lives and money.
Aseptic Technique Outcome
The outcome of aseptic technique depends on whether all
procedures are thoroughly followed. According to the Journal
of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, 50 percent of
HAIs are preventable.
Medical professionals are responsible for following clean
and aseptic techniques. If you notice that a healthcare provider fails to wash
hands or sterilize equipment, don’t be afraid to speak up. Doing so can help
save you or a loved one from potentially fatal side effects.