As a healthcare worker, you wash your hands frequently throughout the workday. But when was the last time you cleaned your phone? Most people know smartphone hygiene matters, but it’s easy to overlook during our busy workday. 

Why should you worry about smartphone hygiene?

Mobile devices are valuable clinical tools. Physicians use smartphones to coordinate their teams, improve patient communication, enhance clinical communication, and access the EHR from anywhere. 

But without careful attention to smartphone hygiene, your device can pose a health risk.

Disinfecting your smartphone becomes critical when you consider a few facts:

  • The CDC estimates that about 80% of all infectious disease is transmitted via contact with the hands. 
  • Americans check their phones about 100 times daily, making mobile devices one of the items we touch most.
  • In one study, microbiologists found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Smartphones are covered in bacteria and can contribute to spreading serious pathogens, including viruses. 
  • One-third of hospital-acquired infections result from poor adherence to established infection control practices like hand washing.
  • Research shows that healthcare workers’ smartphones are susceptible to contamination with harmful pathogens and that cell phones may be involved in cross-contamination between hospital wards. 

Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, put it simply

“Because people are always carrying their cell phones even in situations where they would normally wash their hands before doing anything, cell phones do tend to get pretty gross.”

How to clean your smartphone

Clean your phone at least once a day as a preventative measure. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of smartphone hygiene, major manufacturers like Apple and Android released guidelines for cleaning mobile devices. Always heed manufacturer guidelines and keep in mind the following general guidelines. 

Do these things:

  1. Clean your phone daily using a 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe. Remove the case and clean the exterior surfaces, including the display and rear casing.
  2. If you don’t have alcohol wipes handy, you can clean your phone with a lint-free cloth dipped in mild soap and water. While isopropyl is the best option, even a dry microfiber cloth will remove most bacteria. And if your phone is waterproof, you can give it a light rinse.
  3. Remember to clean your phone case thoroughly. If you have a plastic or rubber case, soak it in dish soap and warm water for a few minutes.

Don’t do these things:

  1. Don’t spray cleaners directly on your device. If you’re using a spray cleaner, apply it to a lint-free cloth and use the cloth to wipe down your phone. You could use a paper towel or tissue in a pinch, but we don’t recommend it because these can scratch your device.
  2. You should also avoid putting alcohol, water, or other liquid in your phone’s openings (charging port, speakers, etc.).
  3. Finally, don’t use household cleaning products like bleach on your phone. Manufacturers warn that these harsh chemicals can wear down the protective layer of your display.

Smartphone hygiene: beyond cleaning your phone

Of course, there are steps you can take – beyond cleaning your phone – to keep your device germ-free. Follow these best practices to minimize your mobile devices’s exposure to germs: 

  • Wash your hands before and after every patient contact. 
  • Only touch your phone after washing your hands or removing gloves, especially in a healthcare setting.
  • Keep your phone in your pocket whenever you’re not using it. 
  • Don’t take your phone into the bathroom.
  • Avoid using your phone while eating.
  • Use a hands-free device when making calls to avoid pressing your phone against your face.

Individual action is necessary, but hospitals and clinics should also be proactive about encouraging smartphone hygiene. Set up a device disinfection station at your workplace so it’s easy for everyone on your team to keep their mobile devices clean. 

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