What is aseptic technique?
Aseptic technique is a standard healthcare practice that helps prevent the transfer of germs to or from an open wound and other susceptible areas on a patient's body.
This article will explain different types of aseptic technique, how it differs from clean technique, and how to use it at home.
Purpose and benefits of aseptic technique
Aseptic barriers can include sterile gloves, gowns, and masks for surgeons.
The skin is the body's first line of defense against germs. A person is vulnerable to infection as soon as there is a break in their skin, regardless of whether it occurs as a result of an accidental injury or a surgical incision.
Aseptic technique helps prevent healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs). An HCAI is an infection that a person acquires as a result of treatment from a healthcare professional.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 31 hospital patients will have at least one HCAI.
Common HCAIs include:
- catheter-associated urinary tract infection
- central line-associated bloodstream infection
- Clostridium difficile infection
- surgical site infection
- ventilator-associated pneumonia
These types of infection are a significant concern in the healthcare community. HCAIs can lead to severe health complications for affected individuals and disciplinary consequences for medical facilities.
Additionally, HCAIs have a significant economic impact. According to the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, the five most common HCAIs cost the United States approximately $9.8 billion a year.
Aseptic techniques range from simple practices, such as using alcohol to sterilize the skin, to full surgical asepsis, which involves the use of sterile gowns, gloves, and masks.
Healthcare professionals use aseptic technique practices in hospitals, surgery rooms, outpatient care clinics, and other healthcare settings.
Using aseptic technique prevents the spread of infection by harmful germs. Healthcare professionals use aseptic technique when they are:
- performing surgical procedures
- performing biopsies
- dressing surgical wounds or burns
- suturing wounds
- inserting a urinary catheter, wound drain, intravenous line, or chest tube
- administering injections
- using instruments to conduct a vaginal examination
- delivering babies
Aseptic technique vs. clean technique
Aseptic technique and clean technique are two closely related healthcare practices that both aim to keep people safe from infection. The aim of using aseptic technique is to eliminate germs, which are disease-causing microorganisms. Clean technique focuses on reducing the number of microorganisms in general.
Healthcare professionals learn both aseptic and clean techniques and use them in different situations. They will use aseptic technique during surgical operations or when inserting a foreign object, such as a catheter, into a person's body.
Clean technique is often sufficient for long-term care, in-home care, and some outpatient clinical settings. Healthcare professionals use clean technique for people who are not at high risk of infection. For example, they may use clean technique when changing the dressing on a wound that is healing.
Some examples of clean technique practices include thorough handwashing, wearing gloves, and maintaining a clean environment or work area.
Clean technique uses non-touch practices. Non-touch practices prohibit healthcare professionals from touching key parts of objects, such as syringe tips and the inside of sterile dressings, even when they are wearing gloves.
The medical community define clean technique as a modified form of aseptic technique, as maintaining proper hygiene and a clean environment will help achieve asepsis.
Types of aseptic technique
Healthcare workers must sterilize equipment before procedures.
People working in a variety of healthcare settings use aseptic technique. Aseptic technique is not the same as surgical asepsis, also known as sterile technique, which refers to a set of infection control practices that it is necessary to use in operating rooms.
According to the U.S. Joint Commission, there are several different aspects of aseptic technique practices:
- patient and equipment preparation
- environmental controls
- contact guidelines
We discuss each of these below.
Barriers prevent the transfer of germs between healthcare professionals, patients, and the environment. Aseptic barriers include:
- sterile gloves
- sterile gowns
- sterile masks
- sterile drapes
- protective wrappers on sterilized instruments
Patient and equipment preparation
Healthcare professionals must thoroughly prepare both the patient and the equipment before a medical procedure takes place.
Aseptic preparation may involve:
- disinfecting a patient's skin using antiseptic wipes
- sterilizing equipment and instruments before a procedure
- keeping sterilized instruments inside plastic wrappers to prevent contamination before use
Healthcare professionals also have to consider the patient's immediate surroundings. It is essential to maintain an aseptic environment before and during procedures. The designated procedural area is also called an aseptic field.
Maintaining an aseptic field involves:
- keeping doors closed
- minimizing movement in and out of the aseptic field
- limiting entry to necessary personnel only
- permitting only one patient per aseptic field
Once a healthcare professional has washed their hands and donned their sterile barriers, they must follow sterile-to-sterile contact guidelines. These guidelines prohibit any contact between sterile and nonsterile items.
At this point, healthcare professionals can only touch sterile objects and surfaces, and they must avoid touching nonsterile items and surfaces at all costs.
The same guidelines apply to sterile devices. If a sterile instrument falls on the ground and the wrapper sustains damage, a healthcare professional must remove the instrument and re-sterilize it before use.
Using aseptic technique at home
People may find the clean technique easier to use at home.
The proper execution of aseptic technique requires training. If a person needs to use aseptic technique in their home, a trained healthcare professional can demonstrate the proper practices to them.
Anyone performing aseptic techniques at home will need to have sterile gloves and special dressing kits at hand.
While aseptic technique requires proper training and the use of specialist equipment, clean technique is much easier to achieve at home. Clean technique involves thoroughly washing the hands, wearing gloves, and maintaining a clean environment.
Aseptic technique is a standard set of healthcare practices that aim to eliminate the transfer of germs. The proper use of aseptic technique should prevent HCAIs, which are a significant healthcare concern that can lead to consequences for both patients and healthcare facilities.
Healthcare professionals receive specialized training in aseptic technique practices. However, a person can also receive aseptic technique training if they need to use these practices at home.
Clean technique is much easier for untrained individuals to achieve, and it involves limiting the number of germs in a patient's vicinity. Clean technique does not require the use of sterile instruments and equipment. Instead, the aim of using this technique is to avoid directly contaminating instruments and materials that will come into contact with the patient.