Outbreak management and pandemic preparedness

image of woman planning for an outbreak
Outbreak management is a large part of healthcare, but are we thinking about it the right way? Can we be more prepared?

Overwhelmingly, COVID-19 has generated an unprecedented global standstill. Everyday life as we knew it has dramatically altered over a period of weeks. The backdrop to this pandemic has been world-class health systems inadequately positioned for a large-scale pathogen assault. 

COVID-19 met little resistance, despite prompt global discussion and political collaboration. The enemy, invisible to the naked eye, challenged the very best of defence strategies. With each media update, it became glaringly evident that procedures and equipment for outbreak management were critically lacking real-time applications. There were few countries sufficiently prepared, and no amount of financing could have purchased a timely and accurate response to prevent this outbreak from stretching far and wide. It doesn’t take much to ask the question — why were we so unprepared? Why did this take the world by surprise?

Failing to plan is planning to fail

In healthcare, we have fire drills, OHS reviews and manual handling updates. While we do have outbreak policies, surveillance, risk assessments, paper trails and an understanding of microbial transmission, why is outbreak management not a practical aspect of emergency training? 

Here at Bug Control, we believe outbreak management is a significant aspect of health provision and should be regularly rehearsed as a part of emergency training, well in advance of any event. Facilities have a legal obligation to provide care that is of an appropriate standard. In all parts of health, applied practice of theory is an essential aspect of quality care. In the same way that a solider prepares for counterinsurgency, a comprehensive response to an outbreak threat can only be assured through appropriate training and practical application. There is much research into the consequence of fire drills, why not outbreak drills? 

Talking to the necessity of fire drills, Pat Hlavka, a safety coordinator at the Mayo Clinic states“We have learned from our drills that employees have a better understanding of not only their roles … but also how they are part of the whole team that responds to the event.”

Infection prevention and control in practice can be likened to an operation strategy during wartime, and the frontline is our health professionals —nurses, doctors, health aides, and so forth. To remove the sense of panic during an outbreak, our health professionals need practical opportunities to train and collaborate towards the development of successful outbreak management plans.

All drills in any environment are practice, undertaken for public safety and to ensure a coordinated, proficient response. Drills allow for weak points to be identified and addressed, equipment to be sourced, and processes to be evaluated within the safety of a non-event. 

Outbreak management and training

Outbreak training requires education, an opportunity to apply that knowledge, and confidence in the necessary actions. At Bug Control, we have seen successful counterattacks to outbreaks, through tailored outbreak plans implemented by trained health professionals. When the fallout of an outbreak /epidemic /pandemic is so great, it makes no sense to ad-lib a response. 

In addition to an outbreak drill, all members of the multidisciplinary team, including cleaning staff, should receive annual education towards their clinical role and responsibility in the prevention, control and response to pathogens.  

The current situation is not about waiting to return to a pre-pandemic state; as health professionals, we need to shift our response to be prepared, trained and confident in the pursuit of protecting lives. 

There’s a lot of information about COVID-19 right now. Bug Control have put together a one-stop shop for Australian and New Zealand aged care facilities to access relevant information about managing COVID-19 in their facilities. Please visit our Pandemic Planning page for free resources, training videos and more. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us via our ‘Contact Us‘ page.

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