By Deepak Prakash
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to teach hard lessons on many fronts, with regard to crisis preparedness, testing, global supply chains, personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing and public health and economic policies.
This article focuses on one of these challenges, PPE, and discusses how issues stemming from the pandemic promise to drive better PPE design and supply chain reliability.
PPE design and user experience
Essential healthcare workers should not have to wear PPE that is so uncomfortable that it becomes an added stressor on the job or a threat to their own health. Case in point: The traditional half-mask N95 filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) is designed to fit tightly against the wearer’s face. There must be an airtight seal around the edge of the device for it to function properly. However, this design, while effective, can cause considerable discomfort and even injury for some healthcare providers, especially if they have to wear the same device for many hours at a time. This has been the case during the COVID-19 crisis, with its widespread PPE shortages.
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The Association of Nurses Specialized in Wound, Ostomy and Continence Canada (NSWOCC) has published suggested solutions for coping with the problem in its “Prevention and Management of Skin Damage Related to PPE: Update 2020.” “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, skin conditions mainly related to the use of PPE and frequent skin cleansing have emerged including pressure injuries, contact dermatitis, itching, and hives related to pressure,” according to the update. “Despite numerous personal and media reports by healthcare professionals of PPE-related skin injuries (pressure injuries, friction injuries, contact dermatitis and moisture associated skin damage), there exists limited published evidence to support the prevention of these wounds.”
Among other recommendations, the NSWOCC offers guidance for how clinicians can apply creams, dressings and foams to protect sensitive facial skin from respirator pressure. But it emphasized that such measures should only be taken if they are approved by the provider’s healthcare institution and do not impair PPE performance.
When clinicians have to apply first aid to themselves in order to wear their PPE, we must ask the question: What can the healthcare supply chain do differently to remedy this unacceptable state of affairs? Part of the answer is for device developers, material suppliers, clinicians, supply chain leaders and other healthcare ecosystem constituents to collaborate for more comfortable PPE solutions.