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Standard Precautions in Nursing
Learn what standard precautions are for health care providers. See the definition of standard precautions along with examples of nursing...
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What are Standard Precautions in Nursing and Patient Care?
Learn what standard precautions are for health care providers. See the definition of standard precautions along with examples of nursing precautions like PPE.
Updated: 12/17/2021 Science Instructors
Keisha Perry, Lisa Cauthen
Learn what standard precautions are for health care providers. See the definition of standard precautions along with examples of nursing precautions like PPE. Updated: 12/17/2021
Table of Contents
Standard Precautions For Patients
Infection Control Principles
Personal Protective Equipment
Lesson Summary Show Create an account
What are Standard Precautions? A basic standard precautions definition would be: hygiene protocols that help prevent the spread of disease. Any person who uses hand sanitizer when they leave or enter a public place or cleans their cart with sanitizing wipes at a store is completing standard precautions. Using hand sanitizer and wiping down carts helps to minimize the spread of infection; everyone should take standard precautions.
Because pathogens can spread via blood and bodily fluids and other modes of transmission, it is necessary to have a way to protect healthcare workers, patients, and the public against the spread of infection. The goal of standard precautions is to protect from disease transmission through the mucous membranes (of the mouth, nose, and eyes), via broken skin (through a cut or abrasion), through a parenteral route such as an intramuscular injection or an intravenous route via IV.
The CDC created standard precautions in 1987-1988. As more was learned about how HIV and Hepatitis B were transmitted, it was necessary to develop a system where all patients would be treated as if they had the potential to spread HIV, Hepatitis B, and other blood-borne pathogens. At that time, standard precautions were known as universal precautions because they were to be applied to all patients. Standard precautions are used to prevent suspected infections; they do not apply to routine cleaning of patient spaces.
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Standard Precautions For Patients
What are standard precautions for patients? These are hygiene protocols that patients can carry out to help minimize the spread of infection to themselves and others as they seek care. Patients should use hand-sanitizer after touching any inanimate object in a healthcare setting. It is also wise for a patient to wear a mask if they have a cough or a sneeze or if they will be exposed to others who have a cough or a sneeze.
Before standard precautions were created, HIV was being transmitted from patients to healthcare workers via needle stick injuries. Since it was unknown that needlestick injuries could spread HIV, needlestick injuries and how to prevent them were not concerns in the transmission of HIV. Therefore, before standard precautions were introduced, disease unknowingly continued to spread this way and other ways until they were found out.
When standard precautions are performed by a nurse, they can be referred to as nursing precautions and they are essentially no different from standard precautions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established these protocols to protect healthcare providers, such as nurses as well as the patients whom they care for. It is important to note that standard precautions should be carried out with all patients, each time, without fail. The nurse or other healthcare provider will need to follow a series of steps which are called for before, during, and after treatment of all patients. The healthcare provider's experience, discernment, and observations of the patient play a large role in the proper implementation of standard precautions.
In the healthcare setting teams are formed. A team may be composed of a physician, an advanced practice provider such as a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, and a registered nurse or medical assistant. Since the registered nurse may be the first team member to come into contact with the patient, they have an important role in setting the tone for contact precautions for the rest of the team. This is important because a patient coming in with cold symptoms may just have a cold or they may have covid, which would prompt airborne precautions to be followed (wearing an N95 mask) instead of droplet precautions.
Nurse practitioners are providers with a master's or doctorate in nursing and can prescribe medicines. Nurse practitioners also have nursing precautions to follow. For example, if they are performing a procedure such as suturing, they must dispose of the equipment properly. Regardless of the role of the nurse practitioner or the registered nurse, they both perform nursing precautions to help prevent the transmission of illness.
Nursing precautions should be exercised by the nurse if any of the following tissues are involved:
seminal fluid vaginal secretions
cerebrospinal fluid (such as during a lumbar puncture procedure)
pleural fluid (from the lungs)
synovial fluid (found in joints)
pericardial fluid (found in the heart)
peritoneal fluid (found in the abdomen)
amniotic fluid (found in the amniotic sac of a woman during pregnancy).
Find the latest Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings.
Standard Precautions are the minimum infection prevention practices that apply to all patient care, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status of the patient, in any setting where health care is delivered. These practices are designed to both protect DHCP and prevent DHCP from spreading infections among patients. Standard Precautions include —
Use of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, masks, eyewear).
Respiratory hygiene / cough etiquette.
Sharps safety (engineering and work practice controls).
Safe injection practices (i.e., aseptic technique for parenteral medications).
Sterile instruments and devices.
Clean and disinfected environmental surfaces.
Each element of Standard Precautions is described in the following sections. Education and training are critical elements of Standard Precautions, because they help DHCP make appropriate decisions and comply with recommended practices.
When Standard Precautions alone cannot prevent transmission, they are supplemented with Transmission-Based Precautions. This second tier of infection prevention is used when patients have diseases that can spread through contact, droplet or airborne routes (e.g., skin contact, sneezing, coughing) and are always used in addition to Standard Precautions. Dental settings are not typically designed to carry out all of the Transmission-Based Precautions (e.g., Airborne Precautions for patients with suspected tuberculosis, measles, or chickenpox) that are recommended for hospital and other ambulatory care settings. Patients, however, do not usually seek routine dental outpatient care when acutely ill with diseases requiring Transmission-Based Precautions. Nonetheless, DHCP should develop and carry out systems for early detection and management of potentially infectious patients at initial points of entry to the dental setting. To the extent possible, this includes rescheduling non-urgent dental care until the patient is no longer infectious or referral to a dental setting with appropriate infection prevention precautions when urgent dental treatment is needed.
Hand hygiene is the most important measure to prevent the spread of infections among patients and DHCP. Education and training programs should thoroughly address indications and techniques for hand hygiene practices before performing routine and oral surgical procedures.
For routine dental examinations and nonsurgical procedures, use water and plain soap (hand washing) or antimicrobial soap (hand antisepsis) specific for health care settings or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Although alcohol-based hand rubs are effective for hand hygiene in health care settings, soap and water should be used when hands are visibly soiled (e.g., dirt, blood, body fluids). For surgical procedures,1 perform a surgical hand scrub before putting on sterile surgeon’s gloves. For all types of hand hygiene products, follow the product manufacturer’s label for instructions. Complete guidance on how and when hand hygiene should be performed, including recommendations regarding surgical hand antisepsis and artificial nails can be found in the Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings
pdf icon [PDF – 494 KB].
Key HAND HYGIENE for Dental Settings
Perform hand hygiene—
a. When hands are visibly soiled.
b. After barehanded touching of instruments, equipment, materials, and other objects likely to be contaminated by blood, saliva, or respiratory secretions.
c. Before and after treating each patient.
d. Before putting on gloves and again immediately after removing gloves.
Use soap and water when hands are visibly soiled (e.g., blood, body fluids); otherwise, an alcohol-based hand rub may be used.Footnote
1 Definition from 2003 CDC Dental Guidelines—Oral surgical procedures involve the incision, excision, or reflection of tissue that exposes the normally sterile areas of the oral cavity. Examples include biopsy, periodontal surgery, apical surgery, implant surgery, and surgical extractions of teeth (e.g., removal of erupted or nonerupted tooth requiring elevation of mucoperiosteal flap, removal of bone or section of tooth, and suturing if needed).
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to wearable equipment that is designed to protect DHCP from exposure to or contact with infectious agents. PPE that is appropriate for various types of patient interactions and effectively covers personal clothing and skin likely to be soiled with blood, saliva, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) should be available. These include gloves, face masks, protective eye wear, face shields, and protective clothing (e.g., reusable or disposable gown, jacket, laboratory coat). Examples of appropriate use of PPE for adherence to Standard Precautions include—
Use of gloves in situations involving possible contact with blood or body fluids, mucous membranes, non-intact skin (e.g., exposed skin that is chapped, abraded, or with dermatitis) or OPIM.
Use of protective clothing to protect skin and clothing during procedures or activities where contact with blood or body fluids is anticipated.
Use of mouth, nose, and eye protection during procedures that are likely to generate splashes or sprays of blood or other body fluids.
Standard Precautions in Nursing: Definition and Examples
Discover how you can use standard precautions in your health care setting to maintain sterile environments, promote patient safety and limit infection.
Standard Precautions in Nursing: Definition and Examples
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published May 11, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
In healthcare, providing safe care to patients is a top priority. Maintaining sterile environments, adhering to health guidelines and protecting yourself and patients from potential harm are keys to providing optimal care settings. Becoming trained in standard safety precautions can help you stay informed, make safe decisions and comply with recommended practices. In this article, we define standard precautions in nursing, explain why they're important and outline basic precautions you can take to prevent unnecessary contamination.
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What are standard precautions in nursing?
Standard precautions are the baseline functions care providers perform to limit infection. Regardless of a patient's confirmed or suspected health status, it can be good practice for providers to use standard precautions any time they're caring for patients in a healthcare setting. Standard precautions are often common-sense protections providers take to limit exposure, adhere to care setting guidelines and prevent the spread of disease.
Related: Scrub Nurse vs. Surgical Tech: Career Differences
Why are standard precautions important?
Standard precautions for nurses and other healthcare providers are important for the following reasons:
Standard precautions are important because they can protect both healthcare providers and patients from infection, exposure and transmission. When followed correctly, precautions can help providers keep clean and safe care settings and prevent transmission from patient to patient or between patients and their care teams.
Following standard precautions, and ensuring everyone on your care team does the same, ensures you're meeting the minimum safety requirements for your facility. Consider attending or providing training courses and education opportunities to ensure you and your team are always adhering to guidelines and maintaining adequate precautionary measures.
Often, depending on the specific care a patient receives, providers may need to take additional measures to protect themselves and those in their care. However, standard precautions ensure health care professionals are providing a baseline level of safety to all patients regardless of their current health, treatment plan or reason for seeking care.
Related: 7 Safety Training Topics To Discuss With Your Team
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What do standard precautions include?
Here is a list of standard precautions healthcare providers strive to maintain:
Practicing good hand hygiene can be one of the most important measures you can take to prevent the spread of illness among patients. Hand washing is important whenever hands appear dirty, before and after performing any kind of procedure, touching equipment without the use of protective gloves and before and after putting on sterile gloves. Depending on your care setting, you may use plain soap, antimicrobial soap or an alcohol-based hand rub. It's important to wash hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure you remove any contaminants.
Personal protective equipment usage
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is equipment you can wear to protect you from exposure to infectious agents. Sterile gloves, protective clothing, masks and goggles are examples of protective equipment. Training and education can help inform providers on how to follow standard precautions when selecting safety equipment, putting on or taking off PPE and disposing of clothing or equipment. Many settings call for providers to follow the following guidelines when using PPE:
Wear gloves to protect against contaminants during surgeries or other procedures.
Use protective clothing or gowns to guard against contact with contaminants like bodily fluids.
Guard eyes and mouth from hazardous material by wearing goggles, face masks and face shields when appropriate.
Remove PPE when exiting an area and store, sanitize or dispose of equipment properly.
Related: What Are Work Hazards? (With Examples)
Cough etiquette or respiratory hygiene refers to practices you can use to limit airborne particles after a cough or a sneeze. Most often, this includes covering your nose or mouth or using a tissue and re-sterilizing when needed. Hand hygiene is an important follow-up to a covered sneeze or cough. Consider instructing patients, especially those with respiratory infections, to adhere to the same guidelines while they are in your care to protect yourself, other care team members, patients and visitors.
Instrument and device maintenance
Aim to keep your equipment sterilized, clean and disinfected before and after it comes into contact with you, a patient or a potential contaminant. Critical items, or items used in invasive procedures, can be the most susceptible to contamination and may require additional measures like heat to sterilize them properly after patient use. Follow all manufacturer directions regarding the use and sterilization of medical devices and equipment. Consider sterilizing your non-critical items with heat as well or, if the equipment isn't heat resistant, cleaning them with a strong disinfectant.