Smart Glass for Improved Hygiene in Healthcare Environments

Smart glass facilitates disinfection in healthcare environments, thus replacing curtains, drapes and window blinds which can harbour pathogens. We ask the question: why is glass easy to clean in the first place?

The Answer is Simple

Glass is non-porous, much like stainless steel, Krion and some plastics, and thus allows for easier cleaning and disinfection due to its microscopically even surface.

Porous vs. Non-Porous Surfaces

Porosity is defined by the space within the material’s surface which is available for pathogens (i.e. germs, bacteria and viruses) to accumulate. Examples of porous surfaces include untreated wood, granite, cork, cardboard, sponge and fabrics.

Some porous materials are manufactured with moisture-resistant coatings, but these eventually wear off if not maintained, and nevertheless deteriorate with the process of disinfection.

Highly porous surfaces allow for the attachment and growth of biofilms, which are structures of 3-dimensional microbial cells that attach irreversibly to surfaces such as pipes, contact lenses, implantable medical devices and other ‘fomites’ (such as clothes, furniture and curtains).

Biofilms are resistant to biocides, making them particularly difficult to remove.

Removal can be achieved by cleaning and / or disinfecting, so we should first clarify these terms:-

  • Cleaning: refers to the physical removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces whereas; 
  • Disinfection: refers to killing the germs and bacteria found on surfaces through chemical agents. (source: CDC).

Smart Glass for Healthcare

So, replacing curtains with ordinary glass would give an immediate benefit because porous fabrics would be altogether eliminated, along with the periodic costs of washing and replacement. 

This would reduce the risk of healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) arising from germs, bacteria and viruses previously present on the patient’s body, or when the body’s defences are weakened by medical procedures. 

Examples of HCAIs include Seasonal Influenza (the flu), MRSA (Meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), Clostridium difficile (C.diff) and the highly contagious norovirus which leads to many cases of gastroenteritis.

Privacy and Glare Control

Replacing curtains with normal glass however would lose the benefit of privacy and control over sunlight, which is the reason we need curtains in the first place.

Smart glass solves this issue with its ability to change reversibly between opaque and transparent, or translucent and transparent or by reflecting infrared, which reduces overheating in buildings.

Examples of smart glass technologies suitable for healthcare environments include active materials such as PDLC, SPD and electrochromic (EC) glass.

Examples of passive materials include photochromic and thermochromic glass, as well as translucent concrete, which brings light deep into building interiors but also offers a load-bearing structure.

Furthermore, active smart glass technologies can be voice-controlled, or can be driven automatically by sensors connected to a building management system, further reducing contact-based transmission of pathogens.

More on this in subsequent blog articles as we explore healthcare applications for smart glass and smart materials.

References

  1. “Porous and nonporous hard surfaces for healthcare applications”, Health Facilities Management (HFM) Magazine, URL
  2. “Cleaning and Disinfection for Households”, US Center for Disease Control, URL
  3. “Biofilms and their role in pathogenesis”, Centre of Biomolecular Sciences, University of Nottingham, URL
  4. “Healthcare associated infections (HCAI)”, NHS, URL
  5. “Evidence Processing on Porous and Non-Porous Surfaces”, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, URL