University Of Tasmania

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An Australian interpretive description of Contact Precautions through a bioethical lens; recommendations for ethically improved practice

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 12:33 authored by Harris, J, Hazel MaxwellHazel Maxwell, Susan Dodds

Background: Contact Precautions (CP) were developed to control multi-resistant organisms (MROs) in hospitals. However, MROs persist and harms are associated with CP. Research objectives were to understand the bioethical impact of CP on patients and health-professionals, and make recommendations for ethically-improved management of MRO-colonised patients.

Method: Interpretive description methodology scaffolded upon bioethical principles framed this qualitative study. Findings were explored alongside contemporary published reports to make recommendations for practice and research.

Results: 9 patients and 24 health professionals participated. Four themes were found: Powerlessness moving to acceptance; You feel a bit of a pariah; Others need protection, but I need looking after too; Doing Contact Precautions is not easy.

Discussion: CP conflict with the principle of respect for autonomy due to non-adherence to informed consent, and sub-optimal communication. Patients experience healthcare inequality, and discriminatory practices breaching the principle of justice. CP elicit stigma for patients, and moral distress and inter-personal conflict for staff, breaching the principle of non-maleficence. Under the principle of beneficence, pluralistic cost-benefit assessment situates CP as low-value practice.

Conclusion: CP challenge organisational culture, professional well-being, and person-centred ethical care. Ethical costs of CP outweigh benefits, obliging policy-makers to reconsider CP in managing MRO-colonised patients.


Publication title

American journal of infection control






School of Health Sciences



Place of publication

Inc, 11830 Westline Industrial Dr, St Louis, USA, Mo, 63146-3318

Rights statement

© 2022 Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Nursing; Disease distribution and transmission (incl. surveillance and response)