The Essential Task of Keeping Technology Clean

Paula Smailes, DNP, RN, CCRP, CCRC

Clinical Researcher—June 2018 (Volume 32, Issue 6)


Paula Smailes, DNP, RN, CCRC, CCRP

[DOI: 10.14524/CR-18-4032]



As our clinical research work environments become dependent on technology, we need to be mindful of the cleanliness of these devices. Technology facilitates research workflows with devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and others that help us collect data from our patients. However, while this equipment may seem benign, it is important that we know the healthcare risks associated with use of these devices for both patients and staff.

One of the reasons that people participate in clinical trials is that there is no other option. Life-threatening disease states can leave patients in immune-compromised conditions while they are undergoing experimental treatments. The elderly who participate in clinical research may also have more susceptibility to infection due to immunosenescence.

Considering how these and other patient populations enter our facilities assuming that adequate cleaning of our equipment has taken place, we certainly need to live up to that expectation for their sakes. Research sites need to know not only the proper way to clean this equipment, but how often it should be done.

Healthcare-Associated Infections from Technology

Research has shown for years that technology devices are likely sources of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).{1} Contaminated hands seem to be the root cause, which in turn touch keyboards and the associated mouse. A study testing 100 keyboards in 29 clinical areas of a teaching hospital found that 95 were positive for the microorganisms Streptococcus, Clostridium perfringens, Enterococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, fungi, and gram negative organisms.{2}

Another study, published in the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials, screened the hands and mobile devices of 200 healthcare workers who worked in the intensive care unit and operating room. The results showed that 94.5% of phones demonstrated evidence of bacterial contamination, including gram negative strains on 31.3% of mobile phones and S. aureus strains on 52%. Perhaps the most alarming finding of this study was that 89.5% of participants never cleaned their mobile phone.{3}

The incidence of contamination is not limited to inpatient areas. A comparative study found that 61.5% of computers in hospital outpatient clinics were contaminated.{4} This supports the notion that ambulatory facilities can be just as susceptible.

Recommendations for Cleanliness

The best way to keep technology surfaces clean is to use them with clean hands. Either wash with soap and water prior to use, or keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer product at the ready. If you use gloves to conduct clinical research procedures, avoid touching technology devices with your gloved hands and remember to clean your hands after taking the gloves off but before touching any tech. If you are using shared computers in situations during which you cannot guarantee the cleanliness habits of others, consider washing your hands after using the computer.

Professional standards can be used as a guide for the cleanliness of our technology. However, the absence of meaningful infection prevention protocols for information technology devices should be given the same consideration as other medical devices.{1} A non-touch screen monitor should be cleaned per the manufacturer’s instruction when visibly soiled.


Contamination prevention is the ideal approach to take with technology, but it’s one that comes with safe practices. Organizations may consider policies and procedures that address this aspect of research environments. Clinical research sites can be hectic, but the constant reminder that clean hands are safe hands as we work with human subjects and technology is essential. This safe practice will protect patients and researchers, alike.


  1. Healthcare IT News. 2017. New study finds IT can play key role in infection prevention.
  2. Schultz M, Gill J, Zubairi S, Huber R, Gordin F. 2003. Bacterial contamination of computer keyboards in a teaching hospital. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology24(4):302–3. doi:10.1086/502200
  3. Ulger F, Esen S, Dilek A, Yanik K, Gunaydin M, Leblebicioglu H. 2009. Are we aware how contaminated our mobile phones with nosocomial pathogens? Ann Clin Microbio Antimicrob 8(1):7.
  4. Ali KM, Ebrahim YS, Salako N, Rotimi VO, Qudeimat MA. 2017. Bacterial contamination of frequently touched surfaces in computers in health care settings: a comparative study. Int J Infect Control 13(2). doi: 10.3396/IJIC.v13i2.008.17

Paula Smailes, DNP, RN, CCRC, CCRP, ( is a senior systems consultant at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Visiting Professor with Chamberlain College of Nursing. She also serves as vice chair of the ACRP Editorial Advisory Board.