Aseptic technique is applied to try to minimize exposure to germs in medical or surgical settings. The goal is total asepsis or sterility in many cases, though a less rigorous approach is commonly taken in most doctor’s offices and exam rooms to treat people in what is called a medical aseptic or clean way. The two approaches toward preventing germ exposure are often called sterile and clean, and of these, sterile refers to the more rigorous methods of trying to avoid additional contamination of patients.
Especially in hospitals, an effort is made to care for surgical or medically vulnerable patients in a fully aseptic way. This is best accomplished in operating rooms or in places like intensive care units, where exposure to germs is strictly controlled. Some of the controls include only allowing people to enter if they’ve observed certain cleaning and dressing protocol, and if they’re in good health.
Cleaning includes vigorously scrubbing the hands. The hands and arms up to the elbow may be scrubbed for as long as five minutes with soaps designed to kill bacteria. Once scrubbing is complete, people normally glove up. They may wear hats to cover their hair and masks to cover the mouth.
The procedures for putting clothing on are usually governed by strict rules that define aseptic techniques. They include, for instance, not touching the exterior of a glove, even after scrubbing. Similarly, the outsides of any surgical masks, hats, or clothing usually aren’t touched, and if they are, a person might have to discard them and start over.
Aseptic technique also includes treating the patient’s body to eliminate potential sources of infection from bacteria that regularly live on the skin. This is especially important when any procedure moves from the skin to the inside of the body, either from skin to body cavity or from skin to inside the body with incision. People having surgery usually have the area that is going to be cut cleaned and potentially shaved to avoid transferring contaminants on the skin or hair into a surgical wound.
It is equally important to use sterile instruments. Anything that will touch a patient’s body must have undergone sterilization procedures, after which, they are packed in plastic to prevent germ exposure. Sterile instruments are only opened based on need, and usually remain packaged until right before they’re needed. They are never used on more than one patient before they have been re-sterilized.
There are many other rigid rules that apply in surgical situations. Medical aseptic technique is more loosely constructed, though an effort is still made to keep things as free from contamination as possible. A clean approach would likely use sterile instruments, hand washing, and antibacterial topicals to prevent infection. Such approaches might take place in rooms that are not sterile, like the average doctor’s room or a standard room in a hospital where a woman is giving birth.