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Hand Hygiene Lacking in Healthcare Settings

Back in April, we wrote a blog about how some Florida facilities were being penalized for their unacceptably high rate of hospital acquired infections (HAIs), which are caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other less common types of pathogens. HAIs do not have to be an inevitable part of healthcare and their elimination has been made a priority by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One of the most frequently repeated suggestions for medical professionals to take is to wash their hands because they often carry infection-causing pathogens from patient to patient. Turns out, this easy step is often missed.

Clean Hands Count Facts

  • On average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is more effective and less drying than using soap and water.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not create antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
  • Important times to clean hands include after touching doorknobs, after using the restroom, after touching bedrails, and before and after changing bandages.

A recent study by the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) found that compliance by doctors and nurses with hand hygiene protocol was dramatically different when they knew they were being watched versus when they thought no one was evaluating them. Changing behavior simply because you know you are being studied in an inherent bias that is difficult to account for in any social study. It even has a name – the Hawthorne Effect – based on the name of the place where it was first encountered.

The SCVMC study sent two types of auditors trained exactly the same to assess hygiene behaviors. One type was obviously identifiable Infection Prevention (IP) nurses while the other was young adult volunteers that were less often recognized as hygiene inspectors. The handwashing behaviors observed by the two auditor groups were very different, with the IP nurses seeing much more compliance than was witnessed by the volunteers. The IP nurses reported a 57 percent hand hygiene compliance rate while the volunteers recorded a 22 percent rate. That 35 percent gap suggests that healthcare works make decisions in the moment based on their environment about whether to wash their hands, a behavior that many assume should be reflexive for these professionals.

In fact, the CDC has introduced a “Clean Hands Count” campaign aimed at encouraging patients to play an active role in their healthcare by reminding providers to wash up. The campaign also seeks to improve healthcare worker adherence to hand hygiene recommendations, including the selection of hand hygiene agents (soap and water, alcohol-based hand rubs, etc.), the proper amount of the agent that should be used, the duration of the hand hygiene procedure, the lotions that can be used to maintain hand skin health, and the understanding that wearing gloves does not replace the need for hand hygiene.

Hand hygiene by medical professionals is a simple tool to help reduce the transmission of dangerous microorganisms. If you or someone you love has become seriously ill as a result of a hospitalization, take a moment to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. We encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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