Celebrating the Fundamentals of Infection Prevention

Yves Crehore, RN, ICP, Senior Director of Global Clinical Surveillance & Data Solutions

Infection prevention and control (IPC) stands as an unwavering shield and scientific approach, guarding patients and healthcare workers from the threats that infections pose. To understand the magnitude of the progress we’ve made in infection prevention, we are exploring the evolution of IPC from general surveillance to real-time surveillance and its impact on reporting and collaboration worldwide.  

 Source: Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology 

History of general surveillance 

In the early stages of IPC, general surveillance was the cornerstone upon which the entire system was built. Picture a time when healthcare facilities were grappling with the silent yet pervasive threat of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). General surveillance represented a profound shift in healthcare thinking, offering a scientific approach to systemically collect, analyze and interpret health data to uncover trends and patterns. This approach was a giant leap forward from the reactive methods that had previously been employed to combat infection and marked the inception of a proactive stance in healthcare, one where prevention was paramount. 

General surveillance, in those early days, was akin to meticulous detective work in healthcare settings.  It involved dedicated teams of healthcare professionals manually collecting data on infections, diligently documenting each case, and then subjecting it to rigorous analysis. This process, though labor-intensive, was indispensable in identifying emerging threats and assessing the effectiveness of infection control measures. Periodic reporting was the norm, with healthcare institutions sharing their findings within their own walls and, occasionally, with neighboring facilities. Organizations like the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) emerged as champions of this methodology, advocating for surveillance as the foundational pillar of any IPC program. The insights garnered through general surveillance laid the groundwork for more sophisticated approaches in the years to come. 

Introducing risk assessment and interventions 

At the heart of the IPC evolution lies the concept of risk assessment, a vital pivot point that has elevated IPC to unprecedented levels of effectiveness. The role of risk assessment in IPC cannot be overstated. As healthcare professionals sought to combat infections with increasing precision, the need to identify vulnerabilities and threats became evident. This is where risk assessment tools, such as those developed by Public Health Ontario (PHO), emerged as indispensable assets. These tools empower IPC teams to meticulously evaluate the potential for infections within specific healthcare settings. By weighing factors like patient susceptibility, environmental conditions, and the prevalence of pathogens, healthcare facilities can now pinpoint areas requiring targeted interventions.  

The arsenal of interventions at the disposal of IPC teams has also grown exponentially as we've transitioned from generalized approaches to pinpoint precision. The World Health Organization (WHO) has played a pivotal role in guiding the global community in this endeavor, offering comprehensive guidelines on a spectrum of interventions. 

Simple yet highly effective measures, such as hand hygiene campaigns, have become an integral part of IPC. The simple act of thorough handwashing, augmented by the use of hand sanitizers, has proven to be a effective practice to prevent and break the chain of infections. However, the intervention spectrum extends beyond hand hygiene. IPC teams are equipped to orchestrate complex isolation procedures when necessary. The meticulous donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE) has become a finely choreographed routine in healthcare settings worldwide. This practice, inspired by the WHO's guidance, is critical in preventing the transmission of highly contagious pathogens. 

Advancements in real-time surveillance 

Technological advancements have ushered in today’s era of real-time surveillance, where we can respond to potential outbreaks with unprecedented speed and precision, significantly reducing the spread of infections. At the heart of this transformation are electronic health records (EHRs) and a host of other cutting-edge technological tools, including RLDatix’s Clinical Surveillance solution. No longer confined to the limitations of periodic reporting, IPC teams can now harness the immediacy of data to detect, respond to and even prevent infections in near real-time. 

Real-time surveillance is not just about collecting data in the moment; it's also about harnessing the power of data analytics to proactively protect patients and healthcare workers. By leveraging advanced analytics tools, IPC teams can identify trends, patterns, and anomalies within the data stream.   

Imagine a scenario where an unusual spike in infections is detected within a healthcare facility. In the past, it might have taken days or even weeks to identify this concerning trend. But today, alarm bells can ring almost instantly. This rapid response capability has become a potent weapon in the battle against infections, as it enables healthcare facilities to take immediate action to halt the spread. This level of agility can be the difference between containment and widespread transmission. 

One notable program that exemplifies the potential of real-time data analytics in IPC is the Victorian Healthcare Associated Infection Surveillance System (VICNISS). VICNISS is a shining example of how real-time data can be utilized to monitor, report, and respond to healthcare-associated infections with remarkable efficiency. 

The shift from general surveillance to real-time, data-driven surveillance marks a turning point in our ability to safeguard public health. It's a testament to human innovation and our unwavering commitment to the fundamentals of infection prevention. 

Real-time reporting and global collaboration 

Today, IPC programs are not just about safeguarding individual healthcare facilities; they are integral components of a global health network. This interconnectedness has given rise to a new imperative – the need for real-time reporting to health authorities. 

In the modern era of IPC, regulatory requirements mandate the prompt reporting of specific data to health authorities. The role of health authorities and regulatory bodies in IPC cannot be overstated. These requirements have been made possible through the establishment of standardized data formats and secure transmission methods. The goal is clear: to provide health authorities with timely and accurate information to support swift, data-driven decision-making. 

Real-time reporting also fosters better collaboration on a global scale. In a world where diseases transcend borders, the ability to share data swiftly and efficiently with health authorities and organizations worldwide is nothing short of revolutionary. 

At the forefront of this global IPC collaboration stands the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO plays a pivotal role in standardizing reporting protocols, ensuring that data from diverse sources can be harmonized and analyzed to draw actionable insights. This collaboration transcends borders, transcends politics, and serves as a beacon of hope for a world recovering from a global pandemic. 

The path forward 

Returning to the fundamentals of infection prevention is not just a celebration of the past; it's a commitment to a healthier, safer future. By embracing these fundamentals and harnessing the capabilities of modern technology, we can continue to improve patient outcomes and protect public health. 

We are proud to be on the modern side of IPC, at the forefront of technological advancements that empower healthcare facilities to report data swiftly and effectively to health authorities. We invite you to join us in this journey toward a world where infections are not just prevented but predicted and swiftly addressed. We must also explore how to ensure rapid advancements in IPC, driven by technology and data, are accessible and developed and deployed ethically, with global disparities in healthcare resources in mind. Together, we can shape a future where equitable health and well-being are paramount. 


  • APIC Text of Infection Control and Epidemiology, 4th Edition 
  • Public Health Ontario. "Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) – Online Learning." Public Health Ontario, www.publichealthontario.ca. 
  • World Health Organization. "Infection prevention and control." WHO, www.who.int. 
  • VICNISS. "Healthcare Worker Surveillance," www.vicniss.org.au
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