Q&A: Healthcare Slow to Use Ultraviolet Light to Disinfect

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Of course, it’s in the best interest of Mark Beeston, the vice president of sales and marketing for Vioguard, a company that manufactures ultraviolet light (UVC) disinfecting devices, to say that. Still, Beeston understands why healthcare has been somewhat hesitant. For one thing, infection preventionists and other healthcare providers would have to learn how to use UVC on the job; the training would need to be integrated into their regular workflow. In addition, says Beeston, that there “are some limitations” to how it functions. “It kills what it sees.”

Infection Control Today®: What is the main hurdle when it comes to hospitals and other health care facilities using ultraviolet light for disinfection?

Mark Beeston: UVC has been around for a really long time. It’s been in HVAC. It’s been in water. And it’s been effective. So, it’s worked, right? And what we’re seeing in hospitals is sort of the early adopters grabbing hold of UVC technology. They’re learning that it works. They’re understanding how it works. They’re understanding how to use it. I think one of the main hurdles that we’re seeing in the hospital setting is just the pace in which they’re working, and the workflows in which they’re managing and the patient loads that they’re managing…. New technologies are a little bit slower to advance into the hospital setting in some environments, because of the loads that the healthcare workers carry. And I think some of the financial strain that they’re under. But I think as they’re starting to utilize and look at UVC technology, it’s really starting to grow and really sort of take wheels and start to move forward. And they’re realizing that it’s a great tool. They’re learning how well it works. Now, it’s just looking at where in the workflow does it fit best? And how do we manage it? And where can it be used? That’s what we’re seeing from the early adopters. And then we’re starting to see some of the normal users start to pick up as well in their place as they follow right behind.

ICT®: Where in the workflow can it be used best? Are we talking about environmental service teams?

Beeston: There are a couple of different technologies that we’re looking at when it comes to utilizing UVC. And there is, of course, the full room disinfection systems, right, the robots, they call them, that disinfect a total room. And I think what I’m seeing in healthcare is that’s coming out of the environmental services. They’re manning those units. They’re learning how to manage them, how to run them. They’re wearing the protective gear to manage them and use them and they’re manning up to run the UVC equipment. Whether it’s in the OR your step-down rooms. I think that’s where we’re seeing some of that technology. What I’m hearing from infection preventionists is “Hey, we need a web of protection?” They’re looking at this as another tool in their tool bag or another arrow in their quiver. How do we utilize this and make it work in our workflow within our hospital setting? And so now we’re seeing multiple types of UVC enter into the hospital setting, the standalone devices that are looking at all the really dirty items that are touched by hands all the time. That’s where the phone disinfecting comes in. Tablets. The SaRA phones that they wear around their necks. Just the communication devices, the entertainment systems. There’s all those types of things that they’re looking at. How do we disinfect that where it’s appropriate and how do we make that happen? That’s where now UVC is starting to fit in that space and work in that part of the workflow of the hospital.

ICT®: You mentioned earlier that the pace is so fast in hospitals it makes it difficult for healthcare workers to take on and learn new technology. With COVID-19, it seems as if the pace is even faster. Does that make them even less receptive to UVC technology?

Beeston: That’s a really great question because the pace in which nurses, for example, are working and even to learn more one more device sometimes seem overwhelming for them. If you can make the UVC technology fast and easy, introducing the products they love. Fewer buttons are better, more automated is better and quicker. You try to build equipment that’s got enough UV energy and kill pathogens well enough and document that, because that’s important to clinicians. They see the snake oil that’s out there. They want to make sure that it’s working in a speed that can fit in their workflow. And if you look at the time it takes to maybe wash your hands—around 20 seconds plus to effectively wash your hands—you can fit in that under that 60-second time zone. That’s where there seems to be the sweet spot in the hospital setting because they can put their phone in and go wash their hands and then collect their phone and move on. It fits within their workflow. The other piece that’s really important is in the hospital setting is as you know, capital money is not easy to come by. If you can provide equipment that fits below that capital spend, and allow them to purchase enough UV devices to fit in their workflow, then it makes it easier, right? Because nurses have certain patterns that they follow each day, or physicians have certain patterns that they follow through the hospital. It’s a certain workflow that they’re following. And if you can put enough devices in place so that it stays within their workflow and their normal path of delivery, then they seem to welcome this type of equipment because they know it works. They know UVC works and they welcome the opportunity to disinfect their stuff. But the sweet spot is making it fit in the workflow.

ICT®: You mentioned nurses several times. Are they the ones who would make the decision to buy UVC technology even though environmental services would be the ones using it?

Beeston: Environmental services likes the idea of UVC. They know it works. I think in terms of where we’re fitting at Vioguard, we’re fitting into that space where the individual users are using it on a daily basis. And even visitors to the hospital, patients’ families, can use it. And you know, when they come into a hospital, they wash their hands, they go through all the questions about COVID. Do they disinfect their phone at that time and think about where their phone has been and how many locations that phone has been all around outside of the hospital? You want to provide a barrier of protection or a web of protection there. Nurses are a key component because they’re users of our equipment. Physicians are key users of our technology because it is quick. Physicians need something that’s fast, right? Because they’re moving on the fly. And, and let’s face it, physicians use their phones a lot. That’s how they communicate with their office. That’s how they communicate with other colleagues. That’s how they communicate with their patients. They understand the importance of disinfecting the devices that are held in their hands.

ICT®: Where do infection preventionists fit in?

Beeston: Infection preventionists are really the frontline. Because they’re the ones managing all of the infection control or prevention in that space. Let’s say, for example, in the operating room, right, you’ve got how many surfaces in the operating room and how many things need to be disinfected in the operating room? Well, infection preventionists are key in ensuring that there’s a web of protection around that environment. They’re going to look at all the surfaces, the floors, the ceilings. They’re going to look at all of that. Infection preventionists are a key component and a key gatekeeper in UVC technology and where it goes. Their recommendations are key and as clinical nurse leaders may be looking at providing additional tools, they want to consult with their infection prevention team.

ICT®: Would there be some things in an operating room that you wouldn’t use UVC on?

Beeston: UVC works great. It kills pathogens. We know that there’s a new study out that even shows that UVC is killing COVID-19. That just came out from Boston University. We’re really seeing some great results from UVC. The limitations with UVC is that the light kills what it sees. If you can have an enclosed environment and put devices into an enclosed environment, the light’s going to encompass the whole 360 degrees and encompass the whole surface and disinfect it. However, if you’re using a general UVC like to disinfect a room, there’s going to be some shadowing, because, again, UVC will kill what it sees. So, if there’s some shadowing, you still need to have a team come in and do a chemical clean, a primary clean, if you will, on a lot of those surfaces, because there’s going to be some shadowing. There are some limitations to that functionality because of how UVC works. It kills what it sees.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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