By Beth Weber
Children hear "Wash your hands" thousands of times during their early years as a warning to avoid ingesting "germs" that can make them sick. Despite these admonishments, kids often fail to take hand hygiene seriously. Not surprisingly, busy adults can sometimes forget to be diligent in this area as well. What is shocking is the attitude of healthcare professionals. Often, they don't take care of this basic task as well as they should. Their negligence has serious consequences, particularly in a hospital setting. Too often, patients go into the hospital with one complaint and end up being treated for a hospital-acquired infection, or HAI. These deadly infections can often be prevented by proper hospital hand hygiene.
Proper hand washing in hospitals should be automatic because following health industry recommendations on hand hygiene can prevent up to 70 percent of hospital infections each year. Most healthcare workers accept that frequent hand washing is necessary, so why don't they wash as often as they should?
Experts have several theories about this behavior. In some facilities, the hand sanitizing dispensers and/or sinks are not as plentiful as they should be. It may be hard to access one, particularly when patients need immediate care. Sometimes, these dispensers are not maintained properly. When they are out of soap or sanitizer, doctors, nurses, and other staff members may proceed with their tasks without washing.
Something as simple as dry skin can prevent people from washing their hands as often as they should. Other workers simply don't like following what they feel are rigid rules.
Good Hand Hygiene Practices
Experts estimate that 2,000,000 people suffer from HAIs each year and 100,000 patients die from them. Studies have shown that healthcare workers wash their hands less than 50% of the time that they should, which leads to these deadly infections being spread throughout a facility.
The Center for Disease Control has a Clean Hands Count Campaign to combat this issue. It recommends that healthcare providers clean their hands up to 100 times for each 12-hour shift that they work. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is considered the best way to fight hospital infections, in part, due to its convenience. The CDC also recommends that the sanitizer be rubbed into the skin until it feels dry, which is usually about 20 seconds. Patients and visitors should also frequently wash their hands to prevent the spread of HAIs. The use of soap and water is still considered the best overall option for cleaning hands.
Hand Hygiene Solutions
There are simple solutions to this hand hygiene problem. Hand washing stations should be plentiful and conveniently located. They also need to be continually maintained. In addition, companies like Vitalacy are producing technology that continuously monitor hand washing in hospitals through the use of employee wristbands that notify the wearer when he or she misses a hand wash. Dispenser sensors, another component of the system, track the number of hand washes, monitor dispenser product maintenance, and send the information to gateways that post the information in a cloud database.
These measures are not meant to be punitive, but rather to remind everyone to wash their hands as often as necessary to reduce HAIs. Often, a gentle nudge is all healthcare workers need to be compliant.
Hand washing in hospitals is essential to patient health, and most healthcare workers accept that premise. They do need to be encouraged to wash often and well, and the presence of enough dispensers and sinks helps. In addition, Vitalacy offers advanced technology that monitors compliance and improves hospital safety. HAIs can be controlled with good hospital hand hygiene.
Beth is a freelance writer with experience in healthcare issues. She has worked for a major medical publisher as a journal issue manager and also spent several years employed by a major American health insurance company.