Get Well Soon: Why Healthcare Systems Feel Better with Antimicrobial Lighting

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Medical the doctor healthcare and medicine concept in the hospital

By Bill Plageman

When Samaritan Hospital, part of St. Peter’s Health Partners in Troy, NY, tested antimicrobial lighting effectiveness at reducing surface contamination in an active trauma room in its emergency department, they reported an exponential decrease.

So, too, did Bayfront Health St. Petersburgh, a hospital in Florida. Researchers there reported that a similar set of LED disinfecting lights “significantly reduced the microbial surface contamination in a trauma room,” even after room usage increased.

Two trauma rooms, two different studies, two hospitals, located in distinct parts of the country—but with similar antimicrobial lighting technology.

And the same results.

Maybe each is onto something—and not a minute too soon.

When we think about hospitals, one thing immediately springs to mind: Safety. It’s the place to heal, to find a cure, get a diagnosis—and to get back on our feet. We don’t expect to get knocked down again.

Unfortunately, the latter happens all too often. Healthcare facilities are breeding grounds for the proliferation of invisible microbes that grow exponentially and undetected, leading to unwanted illnesses that quickly spread. The most common of these ailments, perhaps, are healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs), which patients contract while receiving treatment for another condition, commonly after hospital admission. You’ve heard of them. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C.Diff) are two well-known examples. Surgical site infections are another.

How widespread are these potential debilitating infections?

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.7 million hospitalized patients annually acquire these types of illnesses. More jarring is that more than 98,000 patients—one in 17—die from HCAIs. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality cities HCAIs as the most common complication of hospital care and one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. The overall incidence rate increased 36% over a recent 20-year period.

HCAIs are total killers, physically and financially. The annual costs for HCAIs in the U.S. are reportedly between $28 billion and $45 billion—all for infections that are thought to be preventable.

They are. Healthcare facilities work overtime to kill and prevent infections as well as HCAIs. Fending off bacterial growth is a significant component in delivering the kind of quality healthcare that elevates ratings, funding and reputation, vaunting facilities at the top of industry-leading scorecards like U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. The yearly order says “survival, infections and surgical complications” incidents account for a third of each hospital’s score.

But despite rigorous cleaning, human error prevails. Spots are missed. Surfaces and instruments aren’t textbook clean, and cleaning quality ebbs and flows. Even the most stringent scrubbing reportedly has no lasting or preventive effect.

Preventing germs from spreading among staff, patients and visitors should start before the routine cleaning crew arrives.

Antimicrobial lighting can shine a helpful glow.

Antimicrobial LED Lighting: Always-On

Antimicrobial lighting uses a wavelength of light that attacks and kills about 90% of the bacteria, fungi, yeast, mold and pathogens its touches, creating an inhospitable environment on glass, wood, plastic, rubber and stainless steel—all surfaces commonly found in hospitals—where germs and bacteria grow.

This next generation of superbug-zapping illumination works 24/7 to reduce the bioburden—the number of bacteria living on a surface yet to be sanitized—and supplement continuous cleaning crew efforts to create a clean, healthier environment. 

The technology isn’t new, per see. It dates back nearly 130 years to 1892 in England, where it was discovered with filters and sunlight. It’s progressed since, of course, many thanks to the advent of LED lighting.

Antimicrobial lighting technology utilizes LED diodes that emit specialized light, which illuminates areas such as patient rooms, hallways, lounges, breakrooms, restrooms, dialysis suites, ICUs, emergency rooms and surgical treatment areas while also providing continuous protection inside small or hard-to-reach spaces, such as nurses’ workstations or medicine-dispensing areas.

Why It’s Safe to Look Directly Into The Light

I know: It sounds like ultraviolet (UV) light. It’s not—and that’s an excellent thing.

Allow me to explain.

UV light is intrinsically dangerous. It damages the cellular structure in all living things—you included. It essentially works as a harsh disinfectant, piercing a microbe’s nucleus and obliterating nucleic acids while disrupting DNA structures. The damaged DNA accumulates and leaves the cells unable to perform vital essential functions.

In short, UV lighting is not suitable for use when humans are present in a space.

Antimicrobial lighting, on the other hand, is. The illumination meets the international standards for continuous and unrestricted use with people present. Why? Because its wavelengths cluster around the 405-nanometer mark—just a shy north of the UV frequency range of 100 to 380 nanometers.

A general rule of thumb: More nanometers equal more wavelengths on the visible light spectrum—and the shorter the wavelengths below 380 nanometers, the greater the danger to living things. (Note: Most human eyes respond to wavelengths from 380 nanometers to approximately 750 nanometers.)

Similarly, antimicrobial lighting does not trigger the degradation of materials like UV, which breaks down the chemical bonds found in plastics, rubber and other items. Nor does it require the standard high maintenance that UV lighting requires, such as regular bulb replacement and constant oversight with usage, save time and expenses.

An Enlightening Way to Move Up The Ranks

Another note to keep in mind about the methodology behind how U.S. News & World Report assembles their much-anticipated annual list of top-tier hospitals: How well you curtail infections is a significant factor in their rankings.

So is your reputation around the healthcare industry, which accounts for some 15% of your score.

The other 50% or more, in their words, comes from their evaluation of how well they see a hospital’s “commitment to patient safety”—such “as the number of specific ways infections is minimized.”

How much better would your medical institution look if it enacted additional proactive cleaning measures such as LED antimicrobial lighting?

How many resources and how many lives would you save by averting infections such as HCAIs and reducing readmissions, which come packed with associated penalties and other steep expenses?

Consider the impact on patients and families, who would feel safer knowing that there’s another proven plan in place for continuously combating bacteria and other invisible threats during their stay—without them ever having to leave the room?

How much is all that worth?

Prominent industry scores offer some much-needed insight. So does your bottom line.

Bill Plageman is Amerlux’s VP of Marketing and Product Development.

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