Staff training

Click here for a short staff training video on protecting pets from hospital-acquired infections.
Additional staff training resources can be found here.

Education and training of the practice team is an integral part to any successful ICPB program. Numerous studies have demonstrated decreases in HAIs after some form of educational or training program was completed.52–55 A comprehensive training program should include education on basic principles of ICPB, departmental specific protocols, strategies to develop critical and independent thinking to help team members in unexpected patient care situations, and an evaluation of staff compliance through surveillance, testing, and auditing.56

The effectiveness of an ICPB program is dependent on not only appropriate training of the practice team, but on the extent to which infection control protocols are accepted by the practice team as necessary and useful.57,58 Therefore, it is critical that prior to starting the formal education program, the practice team is committed to and passionate about infection control. One strategy to accomplish this is a hospital-wide meeting (or a small-group meeting if training new employees) in which the ICP discusses recent hospital or local disease outbreaks, documented increases in HAIs, or presents current ICPB deficiencies at the practice (e.g., observations of hand hygiene compliance, environmental cleaning deficiencies identified with fluorescent tagging; see the “Implementing an Infection Control Program” section). The ICP should use data uncovered during an assessment/audit of the practice facility to guide this discussion (Practice biosecurity tracker).

The formal education program should begin with training all practice team members on the basic principles of ICPB. Topics to cover include modes of transmission of pathogens (discussed earlier in these guidelines), common pathogens that may be encountered in the practice setting, and a demonstration of appropriate hand hygiene and PPE use. Cleaning and disinfection protocols should be covered at this time as well. This training can take the form of an inperson meeting, required reading/online training, or both, depending on the practice setting.

After teaching basic ICPB principles, focused education on departmental-specific protocols and situations should be covered. This is best accomplished by integrating infection control education into routine training on daily duties for the position, supplemented with handouts and checklists covering specific protocols. For example, during phone training for receptionists, there should be discussion of recognizing cases that may present an infection control concern, phone scripts to identify high-risk patients, demonstrating appointment scheduling for a suspected infectious patient, and learning arrival instructions for patients with infectious disease. The team member being trained should be given written material to reference and shown where to easily access any scripts or checklists within the practice.

However, even the most extensive training cannot prepare practice team members for all the possible infection control scenarios they might encounter. Although having protocols for the most common situations is helpful, practice team members must also develop a level of critical and independent thinking about infection control so that they can make sound clinical decisions when encountering a more complex or unexpected situation. Simulations of these situations has been theorized to improve outcomes in the human medical field.58,59 Although the resources of a typical veterinary practice do not allow for the often-extensive simulated training that occurs in human hospitals, simulating infection control scenarios in the practice setting can be an invaluable tool. The ICP’s creativity is a key factor in the infection control component of the training program, and this type of training can be accomplished without excessive time or expense. The use of fluorescent tagging or simulated patients (stuffed animals or staff pets) can be helpful in staging a mock infection outbreak. Infection control drills can be staged during downtime in the practice. Receptionists can receive a call from a mock client that challenges their history-taking and decision-making process.

A method for evaluating compliance with the practice’s training program is needed to ensure the training has been successful, and a formal performance feedback program can also further improve outcomes.53 Written testing of basic ICPB knowledge and departmental-specific protocols should be performed at the end of each training period and periodically thereafter to assess retention of knowledge. Routine surveillance data should be used to monitor for any breaches or noncompliance with the ICPB program. Regular reporting of this data can provide feedback to staff members. Simulated, real-world scenarios can also be useful in assessing the practice team’s knowledge of infection control and can be used to monitor compliance with the program. These tools for evaluating and assessing compliance should be applied in a positive, nonpunitive way to help motivate staff to consistently and effectively implement the practice’s program and appreciate the importance of each person’s actions in HAI prevention and overall ICPB success.