Here’s some disquieting news courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: The compliance rate for health professionals, including doctors and nurses, washing their hands in American hospitals is only about 40 percent — meaning that, about 60 percent of health professionals in hospitals don’t wash up before coming into contact with patients.
A 2009 report from the Joint Commission, which accredits more than 19,000 hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers, says that health professionals skip hand washing for a variety of reasons:
Some doctors said their hands were usually too full when they walked into a patient’s room. Others complained that too much soap dried out their hands or said the placement of sinks and gel dispensers was inconvenient.
All those reasons for not washing one’s hands — especially if one is about to come into contact with people who are sick — could readily be addressed. Couldn’t there be a place for doctors to put down whatever they’re holding? Couldn’t sinks and gel dispensers be positioned in better locations? Or should doctors and health professionals simply be wearing gloves?
The New York Times Well blog says that a forthcoming study in Psychological Science says there’s a simple way to remedy the hand washing problem, by posting signs that say “Wash Your Hands to Protect Your Patients.” Signs reading “Wash Your Hands to Protect Yourself” have been shown to be less effective in getting doctors and nurses to wash up. A study indeed found that the “patient-focused sign” led to a 33 percent increase in the amount of soap and disinfectant used per dispenser over a two-week period:
“There’s this perception among some health care providers that ‘I’m around sick people all the time and I don’t get sick very often, so my immune system is extra strong,’” said David Hofmann, an author of the study and a professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But if you go back to the Hippocratic oath that all doctors adhere to, it’s ‘First do no harm.’ So if you have a sign that says ‘Hey, look, here’s a really vulnerable person you’re about to walk in and see,’ then maybe a sign focused on that person will cue this larger core value in the physician to protect the patient.”
Anne Marie Benedicto, the chief of staff for the Joint Commission and the Center for Transforming Healthcare, points out a simple fact, that “when hand hygiene compliance in a hospital went up, patient infection rates went down.” Just pointing out this “specific source of patient harm with doctors” was enough to motivate caregivers to wash their hands more frequently.
Think of all the effort that goes into teaching young children to wash their hands. Certainly it should be within the realm of possibility for doctors and nurses to do the same?
Photo by Amber Nectar 13
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