The Importance of Indoor Air Quality to the Healthcare Industry

While it is important for any building to have good levels of IAQ to protect its people, consider how important this would be within the healthcare industry, where patients are recuperating and our incredible front-line workers are saving lives.

This blog examines the effects of poor Indoor Air Quality in hospital settings, and steps that can be taken to improve IAQ for better staff and patient wellbeing.

Indoor Air Quality in Health

A problem recently gaining the spotlight is the effects of poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) on the health of the patrons of a building. While it is important for any building to have good levels of IAQ  to protect its people, consider how important this would be within the healthcare industry, where patients are recuperating and our incredible front-line workers are saving lives.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

As the name suggests, Indoor Air Quality or IAQ refers to the quality of the air you breathe in when you are inside a building or structure for at least one hour. This includes your home, the office, your classroom, transport facility, hospital or a shopping centre.

Approximately 90% of our lives are spent indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants may be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations according to some studies.1 This leads to sickness and absenteeism in the workplace. In fact, according to CSIRO, the financial impacts of poor indoor air quality may be as high as $12 billion per year!2 Unfortunately, this area of air pollution has been ignored for decades, resulting in poor health outcomes for people all over the world.

The Effects of Poor IAQ in Hospitals

Although frequently sterilised and cleaned, hospitals and medical centres are notorious for harbouring dangerous levels of various gaseous compounds that can damage the health of patients and employees. This is because hospitals and healthcare facilities  are often ventilated through the use of HVAC systems which may not be maintained as frequently as they should be.

A comprehensive study conducted by the Hospital Microbiome Project at the University of Chicago, Illinois showed that poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is the most prominent contributor of healthcare-associated infections.3 Another study revealed that approximately 10 to 33 percent of all healthcare-associated infections travel through the air between the initial source, the reservoir and the final patient they infect,4 a situation made worse with improper ventilation and filtration systems in hospitals.

So as this study clearly shows, poor indoor air quality in hospitals also can have a serious effect on patients who are trying to get well. In particular, contaminated air may result in negative outcomes for those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. Pathogens, usually present as aerosolised molecules less than five micrometers in diameter can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time and are inhaled by both staff and patients in the hospital.

The above study quantifies the grave situation some of our most vulnerable members of society find themselves in. And with the airbourne COVID-19 pandemic further worsening the situation, it is important for hospital officials to establish a targeted effort to improve the Indoor Air Quality in healthcare settings.

Improving IAQ in Health Settings

In addition to upgrading and maintaining all mechanical ventilation services as well as investing in a commercial cleaning service that specialises in hospital-grade cleaning with non-hazardous products, there are a few more steps you can take to improve the IAQ of your healthcare facility.

  • IAQ Monitoring Systems

Most indoor air pollution occurs as a result of the proceedings happening inside the building. This includes the use of chemicals, cleaning agents used for disinfection and sterilisation (formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde), anesthetic gases, various aerosols including surgical smoke, improper ventilation, and stagnant water accumulating in ducts, humidifiers, drain pans, ceiling tiles or drainage systems. Using the right monitoring systems, you can analyse the indoor air quality of any given space in the hospital and take the appropriate steps to minimise pollution levels. Modern gas analysers are capable of comparing an air sample to a large library of compounds to determine unsafe levels of contaminants in the air.

  • Air Purification Systems

One of the best ways of improving the IAQ of a healthcare facility is by installing the right air purification systems. It’s important to note that not all purification systems are made for the same purpose and household-grade systems may not have the strength to be used in a hospital setting. Some of the most common yet deadly diseases like COVID-19, the flu, tuberculosis and measles are transmitted through airborne particles, and even the mildest cases can turn out to be fatal for patients who may already be immunocompromised. This makes it essential for hospitals to invest in appropriate air purification systems.

Our frontline healthcare workers and patients deserve healthy environments and improving the hospital’s IAQ can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep them safe and well.