Hospitals are in the business of saving lives, but when hospital visits result in infections or poor health outcomes, it puts the “business” in jeopardy. An often overlooked initiative, hand washing, is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of disease or infection. One in 25 patients will battle at least one infection picked up in the hospital, says data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, overworked and mentally fatigued health care workers are struggling to remember to wash the germs away.
A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined three years of hand-washing data from more than 4,000 caregivers at 35 U.S. hospitals. The result? Health workers in hospitals wash their hands less often as they near the end of their shift. And this lapse, likely due to mental fatigue, could contribute to hundreds of thousands of patient infections a year in the U.S. according to the researchers.
The study found that compliance with hand-washing protocols fell by an average of 8.7 percent from the beginning to the end of a typical 12-hour shift. Increased work demands were associated with greater declines in hand-washing compliance rates. The more time that hospital workers had off between shifts, the more closely they followed hand-washing protocols.
Making Your Intention Prevention
Anyone who is trained in health care knows that washing hands helps stop the spread of germs. But knowing that doesn’t always translate into action. Hospitals and healthcare facilities can see dramatic improvements in their infection rates by making hand-washing a priority and reminding staff to wash their hands.
- Make it convenient: Be sure that sinks, antiseptic foam, or gel dispensers are readily accessible.
- Launch a clean hands initiative: create a culture shift by instituting training, communication and shared accountability across all staff levels – from receptionist to surgeons.
- Respect those who remind: Everyone at the facility will need to feel comfortable reminding others – from subordinates to bosses – to wash their hands without fear of annoyance or condescension.
- Instruct staff members to clean their hands before and after every encounter with patients, even if just a conversation.
- Make it easier on the hands: Provide moisturizing lotions or towelettes available alongside the antiseptic liquids to help prevent irritated hands.
- Leverage Technology: High-tech solutions are available including electronic badges or bracelets worn by hospital workers which automatically track compliance. One badge turns green when it detects hand sanitizer on a provider’s hands. Another communicates with sensors on foam dispensers and vibrates to remind staff members they need to wash their hands.
- Provide incentive: Develop incentive programs for departments that increase their hand-washing rates.
If ever there was a time to refocus on hand-washing at healthcare facilities, it is now. Healthcare providers are under increasing pressure to do more with less financial incentive, and Medicare reimbursements won’t pay for preventable errors, including infections.