Aesthetics. For some, appearance may be a concern. “Copper is actually an appealing material that is offered in an array of colors and surface finishes,” Dr. Michels says. Because a copper-and-brass combination is more prone to tarnishing, a copper-nickel alloy may be more desirable.
Availability. Copper components are not produced and marketed to U.S. hospitals; however, they are available. “We are hoping with our study and future studies that some medical-device companies, as well as hospital-furniture manufacturers, will jump on board to look at ways to mass-produce items,” Dr. Salgado says.
Acceptance. The study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology validated the effectiveness of copper in decreasing HAIs. This pilot study, however, was not blinded.3
“It was pretty apparent to providers where copper surfaces were located, which tends to result in some bias. Future studies will, hopefully, try to answer questions regarding healthcare providers’ behaviors with different surfaces,” says Dr. Salgado, noting researchers in California and Chile also are studying the effects of copper surfaces in hospitals.
Possible loss of efficacy. Even if a surface is effective initially, Dr. Pile points out that it’s possible for that to change. “I have a theoretical concern that, over time, bacterial pathogens may develop a tolerance to copper,” he says. “Bacterial adversaries have been able to overcome any type of treatment that we have devised for them thus far. But this remains to be seen.”
This has been an issue with other surfaces; once microbes establish a foothold, it is hard to eliminate them. But Dr. Schmidt says because bacteria are killed so quickly on copper surfaces and cleaning is only required once daily, the ability to establish a foothold is greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Copper supplements what these other things can do; it’s in the background and it’s always working..
—Harold T. Michels, PhD, PE, senior vice president of technology and technical services, Copper Development Association Inc.
Champion Proven Strategies
Dr. Pile sees antimicrobial stewardship as a great opportunity for hospitalists as a specialty. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with HM groups on piloting multiple antimicrobial stewardship initiatives at several sites.
Dr. Pile suggests that leaders spearhead formal quality-improvement efforts, be involved with patient-safety efforts, and serve as physician champions.
“No one is better positioned to do this than hospitalists, because we own the hospital environment,” he says. “We have an incredible stake in making sure that our inpatient environment provides safe and high-value care.”
As a result of the published study, Dr. Salgado says discussions are underway with hospital leaders at MUSC to determine if copper surfaces will be used in its ICUs and, if so, how changes will be implemented.
Karen Appold is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania.
- Klevens RM, Edwards JR, Richards CL, et al. Estimating healthcare-associated infections and deaths in U.S. hospitals, 2002. Public Health Rep. 2007;122:160-166.
- Scott RD. The Direct Medical Costs of Healthcare-Associated Infections in U.S. Hospitals and the Benefits of Prevention. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.
- Salgado CD, Sepkowitz KA, John JF, et al. Copper Surfaces Reduce the Rate of Healthcare-Acquired Infections in the Intensive Care Unit. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2013;34(5):479-486.
- Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. Statistical Brief No. 94. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Aug. 2010. Available at: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb94.pdf. Accessed Aug. 6, 2013.
This is fascinating information to professional and lay people alike. Many thanks for this article.