Mobile Devices: Breeding Ground For Germs?
By Katie Wike, contributing writer
A new study shows iPads and other tablets could have dangerous amounts of surface contamination
A study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research notes, “With the use of highly mobile tools like tablet PCs in clinical settings, an effective disinfection method is a necessity. Since manufacturers do not allow cleaning methods that make use of anything but a dry fleece, other approaches have to be established to ensure patient safety and to minimize risks posed by microbiological contamination.” With that understanding, the study evaluated, “The ability of isopropanol wipes to decontaminate iPads … in an observer blinded, comparative analysis of devices used in a clinical and a nonclinical setting.”
Their study distributed “10 new iPads … to members of the nursing staff of 10 clinical wards, to be used in a clinical setting over a period of four weeks. A pre-installed interactive disinfection application was used on a daily basis. Thereafter, the number and species of remaining microorganisms on the surface of the devices (13 locations; front and back) was evaluated using contact agar plates.
“Following this, the 10 iPads were disinfected and randomly deployed to medical informatics professionals who also used the devices for four weeks but were forbidden to use disinfecting agents. The quality of a single, standardized disinfection process was then determined by a final surface disinfection process of all devices in the infection control laboratory. No personal data were logged with the devices. The evaluation was performed observer blinded with respect to the clinical setting they were deployed in and personnel that used the devices.”
The authors of the survey found, “A total of 6,811 colonies representing microbial growth were detected during the initial testing of the iPads after use: 1,842 CFU on tablet PCs from the hospital wards where the devices had been disinfected regularly, compared to 4,969 CFU recovered from tablet PCs from the nonclinical setting where daily disinfections had not been carried out.”
It was concluded, “Normal use of tablet PCs leads to a remarkable amount of microbial surface contamination. Standardized surface disinfection with isopropanol wipes as guided by the application significantly reduces this microbial load. When performed regularly, the disinfection process helps with maintaining a low germ count during use. This should reduce the risk of subsequent nosocomial pathogen transmission. Unfortunately, applying a disinfection procedure such as the one we propose may lead to losing the manufacturer’s warranty for the devices; this remains an unsolved issue.”
It was further found that every fingerprint left residue and contamination, and was likely to contain bacteria. Underscoring the importance of disinfecting mobile devices, 53 percent of the 90 health care workers (surgeons, anesthesiologists, and medical students) surveyed said they carried a mobile device with them (16 percent carried even more than one). Unfortunately, the study also pointed out, “When asked about their cleaning habits, the (health care workers) admitted that 80 percent of the PDAs, 85 percent of the mobile phones, and 96 percent of the pagers had never been cleaned by the owner.”
The study further found, “Cleaning with a fleece as recommended by the manufacturer of the tablet PC showed a reduction of about 50 percent of microorganisms. However, a sufficient reduction of the microbiological load will be achieved only when proper disinfection is performed.” To completely disinfect the tablets, the study recommended the deBac app for use at least once a day.
The deBac app uses in app sensors to make sure the iPad is properly cleaned and can be set to remind the user to clean it regularly. According to MobiHealth News, 74 percent of physicians “already own or plan to buy an iPad in the next six months.” MobiHealth News quotes Dr. Urs-Vito Albrecht, the author of the paper, as saying, “With the use of highly mobile tools like tablet PCs in clinical settings, an effective disinfection method is a necessity.”