Wash Your Hands; It Could Save a Life

Southern California Hospitals to Implement Stricter Sanitizing Rules for Employees

Did you know that over 250 people die every day from infections they contract in a hospital? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all this can be prevented just by having doctors and nurses properly sterilize their hands.

As much effort as hospital staff puts into creating a clean environment, bacteria still lingers in about three-quarters of hospital surfaces, according to Dr. Betsy McCaughey. While there are hand sanitizer dispensers located near the door of every hospital room, doctors or nurses can easily re-contaminate their hands just by touching another object in the room. The bars of patient beds or a dividing curtain can be filled with drug-resistant bugs that might infect a patient and cause greater illness. “Cleaning hands at the right times, in the right way, will save a life,” McCaughey said.

Studies at Dartmouth have proven that many of the drug-resistant bacteria found in patients often come from patients who have long been out of the hospital, but their germs stay behind. When hospital staff members go to treat new patients, they sometimes pick up these germs by putting their hands on various surfaces, and then give them to the new patient when they go to treat them. WHO calls this infection a Health Care Associated Infection (HCAI), and it affects hundreds of millions of patients world-wide. In response to this study, 13 Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Southern California have pledged to increase hand hygiene and fix this issue.

Hospitals will try now portable hand sanitizers that can be clipped onto clothing, allowing hospital staff to clean their hands right before treating a patient, hopefully cutting down the chances of re-contaminating sterile hands. As Dr. Rodney Ogrin explained, the hardest part will be getting hospital staff to change their habits. To keep checks on the system, each body-worn sanitizer will keep a record of when and how many times it has been used in a day, encouraging behavior modification. Ogrin called it the “Hawthorne Effect,” a type of social awareness that comes from knowing everyone around you is doing something a certain way. Peer pressure seems to be the positive way to make a difference, because as Ogrin said, “They want to do the right thing.” To help patients protect themselves, hospital staff will also place notes on food trays advising patients not to let their hands or silverware touch any other surfaces while eating, to prevent picking up germs.

The WHO Hand Hygiene Technical Reference Manuel states hand hygiene is the most cost effective way to prevent HCAI. As Ogrin said, even if hand sanitizers cost the hospitals a little extra, nothing can be more important than the cost of human life.


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