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Patient privacy and its impact on hospital waiting lists

Patient capacity and waiting lists are an issue that affects hospitals all over the world, including here in Canada.

Hospital waiting lists are ‘Erlang queues’ – that is, they’re double ended queues made up of people waiting to get out as well as people waiting to get into hospital.  Delayed discharge is one of the biggest contributing factors to delayed hospital admission, which in turn has an effect on the length of time people wait for a bed for routine as well as emergency treatment.

Patient privacy and associated infection control can have a direct impact on the length of time a patient spends in hospital, which in turn affects admissions, discharges and overall waiting times.

Patient privacy and HAIs

Patient privacy has an important role to play in the control of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) which affect around 220,000 Canadians each year*.  HAIs result in longer hospital stays, which in turn results in increased waiting times for patients needing to get into hospital for procedures and treatment.  

Patient privacy can prevent the transmission of infection from one patient to another by stopping the spread of airborne pathogens.  However, privacy screens can also be a source of cross infection in their own right.  Research shows that clinicians and nursing staff handle patient curtains after they wash their hands, and before they perform patient care.  Therefore, contaminated patient curtains are a potential cause of HAIs.

One study from the University of Manitoba showed that 87% of hospital curtains became contaminated with the bacteria MRSA within 14 days.  Since hospital curtains are not typically removed and laundered during a patient’s stay – and many hospitals admit to leaving a period of weeks or months between curtain changes – it’s clear to see how privacy curtains could impact on infection control and lead to extended hospital stays for some patients.

Bed turnarounds

Once a patient has been discharged from hospital, the room or bed they vacated must be terminally disinfected ready for the next patient.  Terminal disinfection is a process of deep cleaning that often involves removing everything from the room, wiping or spraying down all surfaces, and replacing all textiles including bedding and curtains.

While nurses and auxiliary staff have bedding changes down to a fine art, curtain changes are a different matter.  It can take as long as 30 minutes to climb up a ladder, remove a soiled curtain hook by hook, locate the correct size replacement, and then climb that ladder again to replace the curtain.  

During this time, that patient bay is out of commission.  This might not be an issue for an inpatient ward with spare bed capacity, but for a busy ER or a small ICU, it might mean a patient waiting on a stretcher longer than they should, or holding up a bed elsewhere.  Manual changes requiring ladders can also pose a risk to staff – and staff absences due to injury can feed right back into increased risk of HAIs among patients due to stretched resources.

So what can we do about it?

Smart patient privacy solutions like our InstaSwap and CleanScreen products are designed to make it faster and easier for hospital staff to keep healthcare environments clean, preventing HAIs and reducing bed downtime between patients. 


InstaSwap is an innovative, modular curtain system designed to take the effort (and risk) out of regular curtain changes.

The system is made up of a non-absorbent nylon mesh and an opaque curtain panel, connected with reinforced snap fastener tape.  The top anti-absorbent mesh is custom-sized to accommodate any ceiling height, and since this area has less contact, it doesn’t need to be laundered frequently.  This allows for the use of standardized, one-size-fits-all curtain panels on the bottom, which simplifies inventory.  These panels are made of antimicrobial fabric and are easy to change – the snap fasteners are at head height so there’s no need for ladders; simply unsnap the soiled curtain and attach a fresh one in minutes.  Click here to read more.


In busy and high-risk hospital departments, patient curtains aren’t always practical – and that’s where CleanScreen by nöjerm comes in.  CleanScreen is a modular, seamless patient privacy divider that can be fixed or mobile and is designed to minimize infection risk by simplifying hygiene.

Moulded from a polyethylene substrate, CleanScreen’s panels are completely smooth with no grooves or joins where dirt and bacteria can lurk, and can be cleaned using your existing hard surface disinfectant.  A unique hinge system ensures 100% accessibility for cleaning and allows the system to be quickly dismantled for terminal cleaning.  In the same way, panels can be added or removed for a versatile, customized setup that folds neatly out of the way when not in use.  Click here to read more.

However you look at it, there’s no denying that patient privacy and infection control are inextricably linked – and if your current infrastructure is falling short, there’s a strong chance it’s also impacting on bed availability within your healthcare organization.  

To find out more about Belroc’s range of enhanced patient privacy solutions or arrange a consultation, contact Dan Lawrenson –

*Canadian Medical Association Journal