Background: Contact isolation is commonly used to prevent transmission of resistant organisms. We hypothesized that contact isolation negatively impacts the amount of direct patient care.
Methods: For 2 hours per day over a 5-week period, a single observer recorded provider/patient contact in adjacent isolated and nonisolated patient rooms on both the surgical intensive care unit (ICU) and surgical wards of a university hospital. Number of visits, contact time, and compliance with isolation were recorded, as was illness severity as assessed by APACHE II score.
Results: Isolated patients were visited fewer times than nonisolated patients (5.3 vs 10.9 visits/h, P <.0001) and had less contact time overall (29 +/- 5 vs 37 +/- 3 min/h, P =.008), in the ICU (41 +/- 10 vs 47 +/- 5 min/h, P =.03), and on the floor (17 +/- 3 vs 28 +/- 4 min/h, P =.039), in spite of higher mean APACHE II scores in the isolated (10.1 +/- 1.0 vs 7.6 +/- 0.8, P =.05). Among floor patients with APACHE II scores greater than 10, patients in the isolated group had nearly 40% less contact time per hour than patients in the nonisolated group (19 +/- 4 vs 34 +/- 7 min/h, P =.05).
Conclusions: Because of the significantly lower contact time observed, particularly among the most severely ill of floor patients, we propose a reexamination of the risk-benefit ratio of this infection control method.