Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Healthcare / Quality improvement

Engineering solutions that can help suppress COVID-19 spread in hospitals

By Andrew Sansom 08 Jun 2020 0

Engineering controls play a critical role in limiting the transmission of COVID-19 in hospitals, according to a rapid review published by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The spread of COVID-19 in hospitals is a complex problem influenced by virus transmission routes, the hospital environment and how it is used, and how external people and services interact with it, says the Academy. 

The primary strategy for controlling transmission in hospitals centres on following the latest infection control guidance on cleaning of surfaces, hand hygiene, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). This new review, however, confirms that engineering solutions play a role to enhance these measures at multiple points in the system, through environmental decontamination, personal and respiratory protective equipment, hand hygiene, and environmental design.

Included in the review’s recommendations is that the engineering and healthcare communities collaborate on this challenge and include expertise on human factors, as well as input from statisticians and epidemiologists, to gain a full picture of how to proceed. Identifying and understanding the lessons learned from the pandemic will be a critical step to inform how future hospitals are designed and built for resilience and how the healthcare system approaches preparedness, it says.

The Academy’s rapid review outlines a number of engineering factors that will influence the spread of COVID-19 in hospital environments. It identifies several areas where technology and design solutions may help prevent the spread of the disease in hospitals, including innovations from air cleaning and ventilation to laser decontamination and anti-infection coatings. 

It proposes, for example, that:

  • Antimicrobial-impregnated paints and powder coatings could be used on surfaces, such as bed rails and toilet handles, to help reduce cross-contamination. Antibacterial products are now being tested for application as anti-viral coatings against COVID-19.
  • Engineering innovative solutions could help with the speed and effectiveness of hand washing, such as taps that deliver water containing tiny bubbles activated by sound waves. This creates a microscopic scrubbing action that could enable faster and more effective cleaning.
  • Novel laser technology could provide a faster way of decontaminating rooms, ventilators and other tools.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted profoundly on health and wellbeing, daily life and the economy around the world,” said Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering. “It’s essential that we continue to work together to ensure our healthcare systems can respond effectively to COVID-19 both now and into the future.”

He continued: “Engineering controls and solutions are vital to our response and can play a key role in creating a safe critical care environment where infection is well controlled. By working closely with healthcare professionals, social scientists and others, engineers can make a major contribution to the infrastructure and systems on which society and the economy depend, such as digital, mobility and healthcare, and in helping to control infection as we exit from the lockdown.”

Organisations involved