If a patient has a serious infectious disease, they must receive treatment without spreading the infection to other people. This is where barrier nursing comes in. Also known as source isolation, barrier nursing is a form of medical treatment where the patient receives care while taking every precaution to protect medical staff from contracting the disease whilst also protecting the patient from further illness.

History and origins

Barrier nursing stems from isolation practices used to minimise the effects and spreading of epidemiological patterns of serious infectious diseases. Such processes were first introduced by the Centre for Disease Control in the late 19th century and have since been refined with stricter, more specific requirements to ensure the safety of patients and their carers from infectious diseases.

Whilst personal protective equipment (PPE) has become an increasing necessity for physicians since the 1800s, isolation nursing has demanded stricter adherence policies concerning disposable, protective clothing, such as cotton gauze facial coverings, surgical gloves, aprons, and coveralls in the interest of providing a safer, sterile environment for the infected patient.

When might it be required?

Barrier nursing is required in hospital wards or care facilities where diseases are easily spread. In these settings, patients with certain symptoms must be isolated immediately before a diagnosis can be made. Symptoms that lead to barrier nursing can include diarrhea, vomiting, undiagnosed rashes, suspected streptococcal infection, and bacterial meningitis. In these cases, barrier nursing (or source isolation) is implemented to protect medical workers and to ensure that any harmful bacteria is contained.

It is also important to understand that the infected patient may have a weakened immune system. Not only does barrier nursing protect others within the vicinity but the process also limits any other bacteria coming into contact with the patient in the interest of their safety.

What it involves

Usually, this will involve moving the patient to a single room on the ward to ensure that they do not come into contact with other patients whilst taking measures to limit the risk of infection to medical staff.

Staff is required to wear protective clothing such as gloves, overalls, footwear, and facial coverings which should be of immediate access and within close proximity to the patient’s room.

Visitors will need to check with medical staff to find out if they’re allowed into the room. If they are allowed to enter, visitors will need to wash their hands thoroughly and take any other precautions deemed necessary by the nurses. As for the patient, they’ll usually be confined to their room. Depending on their condition they may be in isolation for a few days or the entire duration of their stay.

Supporting patients who are in isolation

Barrier nursing can be a daunting and worrying experience for a patient – especially if they’re not able to welcome visitors. In this situation, medical professionals will need to take care to look after the mental needs of the patient.

Empathy and understanding are very important in such situations and be sure to take the time to work through any worries that they may have. Encouraging virtual engagement with loved ones via phone calls and video chats is recommended for protecting the mental well-being of the patient, and helping them to feel less isolated.

Other effective remedies include engaging in hobbies or crafts, reading, or watching television.

For patients who may be feeling anxious or stressed you should introduce them to mindfulness meditation and soothing breathing techniques.

Barrier nursing is a method of limiting the spread of disease whilst also being an important practice for keeping hospitals and care facilities a safe environment for their patients. By following the guide above – whether you’re an incoming patient or medical professional – you should be prepared to safely and effectively practice barrier nursing.