Infection control in healthcare environments is critical to patient safety and producing good health outcomes, but it’s also all-too-often harder than it needs to be. That’s particularly true when it comes to medical equipment that is difficult or even impossible to keep adequately clean and sanitized.
Keyboards are a prime example here. They are one of the most ubiquitous and most frequently touched pieces of equipment in a hospital environment. They also regularly travel, via computers on wheels, through high risk areas. So, you’d think that medical keyboards and similar equipment would be cleaned constantly, right?
Not so fast: unfortunately, one study found that they are typically cleaned only a handful of times each day … at most. Why? Because they’re hard to clean, and the more difficult and time-consuming the process, the less frequently and reliably staff will undertake it.
That’s why most hospitals opt for medical-grade or washable keyboard options whose designs should strengthen infection control. Unfortunately, not all so-called medical keyboards are equally effective at this task.
Traditional mechanical keyboards are the worst option because they are basically impossible to clean. Their design creates an enormous amount of surface area with plentiful nooks and crannies for microbes to infiltrate where cleaning agents will struggle to reach. Liquid cleaning agents are an instant no-go, because they can penetrate the multiple points of ingress and damage the delicate electronics within.
To control for the shortcoming of mechanical keyboards, many hospitals wrap them in silicone or plastic covers. However, users must exercise a degree of caution. Unless specially formulated to be non-porous, the materials used may still be pathogen-friendly, and they may not be able to accommodate all cleaning agents without damage. They also leave the basic shape of the keyboard – with all its nooks and crannies – intact, meaning they still can’t be just wiped down. Finally, the covers minimize but still leave points of ingress available; users have to be able to get them off and on, after all.
Full silicone or rubber keyboards
Some keyboards are constructed entirely out of alternative materials. The same cautions mentioned above are still warranted, however: you have to make sure that the material is specially formulated to be nonporous. Another issue common to these types of keyboards is poor tactility. Silicone or rubber keys are soft and pliant, which makes them harder to type on and erodes tactile feedback for the user. This issue can also worsen over time.
Flat, fully sealed keyboards
The ideal medical grade keyboard is flat, fully sealed (look for an IP65 rating), with an integrated track-pad (to eliminate the need for another potential transmission vector, the mouse) and antimicrobial coating or surface treatment. The keyboard itself should alert users when it’s time to clean, possibly through use of an LED light-up alert. As with silicone, flat keyboards may not offer the same tactility as mechanical keyboards, but acoustic and/or haptic feedback are typically available as options. The key is that these keyboards can be completely and safely wiped and disinfected in seconds.
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Critical components for high-quality medical equipment is a specialty at Hoffmann + Krippner. For more information about Hoffmann + Krippner’s COVID-19 preparations and our production capabilities, read our most recent statement and follow news as it updates here. For more information or for answers to specific questions, contact us at your convenience.
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Technical wordsmith and guest blogger for Hoffmann + Krippner.