Mr Thomas Mitchell
Casual Technical Officer
School of Creative Industries
Infection control and the future of healthcare
Professor Brett Mitchell’s research is tackling the looming global threat of microbial resistance by researching hygiene-based methods of increasing patient safety and controlling infections within hospital settings.
What happens when antibiotics don’t work like they should? In recent years, the rise of ‘superbug’ infections has attracted international attention and alarm. While the world looks for ways to stop microorganisms adapting and becoming resistant to antibiotics, internationally esteemed infection prevention and control researchers like Professor Brett Mitchell are finding novel ways to prevent infections from happening at all.
A Fellow of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control and the Australian College of Nursing, Brett is determined to protect Australians from infections by advancing best practice hygiene and sanitation standards in hospitals and using evidence-based infection management strategies to halt the spread of deadly bacteria.
“Infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria are becoming more common, and this is not good news for patients or the general community,” says Brett.
“Infections are now more difficult to treat, because drugs used to treat infections are becoming less effective. This increasing resistance to antimicrobials means that preventing infections from occurring is now more important than ever.
“My research focuses on preventing the most common infections acquired in healthcare: urinary tract infections, pneumonia and drug-resistant bacteria. It aims to enhance the care patients receive in hospital, reduce the risk of infection and help clinicians undertake best practice. Reducing infections also means less antimicrobials are used to treat infection—which reduces the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”
It starts in our hospitals
Did you know that around one in ten people in an Australian hospital today have an infection acquired during their stay? Without stringent healthcare policies and practices in place, hospitals can quickly become breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Patients are highly vulnerable to a range of infections while receiving treatment, and especially following surgery, including wound and bloodstream infections.
“There are around 165,000 infections acquired in Australian hospitals each year, so there is a really big opportunity to improve patient care and outcomes.”
While improving infection control is critical to the future of healthcare, researchers are faced with significant barriers to success. These multi-faceted challenges motivate Brett and his team to design rigorous research methods that deliver practical solutions and can be implemented at scale.
“There are many things that can influence whether a person acquires an infection. Ensuring you account for these factors means complex study designs and generally a large number of participants. To complicate things further, the way infections are defined in Australian hospitals varies.”
Brett has recently been involved in a major study aimed at cleaning up hospitals’ hygiene practices to minimise patients’ risk of infections. The study looked at current practices across 11 Australian hospitals to demonstrate and test a fresh approach to sanitation.
“We found that improving hospital cleaning is a highly effective way to reduce the risk of infection for patients. While it might seem straightforward, this was the first time such a study has been undertaken and the study results will have an immense impact on the provision of cleaning in hospitals internationally.”
The price of patient safety
This first-of-its-kind study into the benefits of hospital cleaning also highlights an important cost-saving advantage for health services and communities. Put simply, the better protected patients are from infections, the fewer costly treatments they require and the shorter their hospital stays.
“As well as benefitting patient health, the study found that investing in hospital cleaning is a cost-effective intervention. Reducing infections also reduces healthcare costs from diagnostics, hospitals stays and treatments.”
While proper sanitation and cleaning practices can help save lives, Brett’s emerging research shows that some approaches are more effective—and more cost-effective—than others. Brett and his team have just completed a another study to find out which antiseptics are gold standard for preventing urinary tract infections, which is one of the most common hospital-obtained infections in Australia, particularly among women.
“We have undertaken a trial of an antiseptic called chlorhexidine and sought to determine whether using this prior to insertion of a urinary catheter could reduce the risk of a urinary tract infection. We found this method was associated with a 94 per cent reduction in infection and that the product is a cost saving for health services.
“Findings from this study are leading to new product development and implementation of chlorhexidine in urinary catheter insertion practices in hospitals across the world. Because of this research, there will be far fewer patients who acquire this infection while in hospital.”
Both of Brett’s studies serve as a reminder that, sometimes, it’s the simple strategies that can have the greatest impact. The studies are contributing to a growing database of knowledge that can inform the future of infection control and hospital care in Australia and worldwide.
“As a nurse, my motivation is about providing the best care possible. My research focuses on making a difference to patient care and providing evidence for the best possible care.”
Professor Brett Mitchell’s research is tackling the looming global threat of microbial resistance by researching hygiene-based methods of increasing patient safety and controlling infections within hospital settings.What happens when antibiotics don’t work like they should? In recent years, the rise…