hand hygiene patient safety

Patient Safety and Hand Hygiene

This month our team is working on a patient safety/hand hygiene campaign for one of our healthcare clients. Doing the research leading up to the campaign has been intriguing. We all know about the importance of washing/sanitizing our hands, and how failing to do so can lead to the transmission of bacteria. But the statistics about the number of hospital-acquired infections, many of which are preventable, is staggering.

By most accounts, approximately 1.7 million patients will develop a hospital-acquired infection this year. An estimated 90,000 patients will die of infection they acquire while hospitalized. Beyond the cost in human life, the average patient infection costs the hospital somewhere between $25,000 and $100,000 (estimates vary greatly). The Wall Street Journal estimates that hospital acquired infections cost hospitals more than $4.5 billion each year. In the November-December 2006 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, it is estimated that the elimination of a single bloodstream infection case will pay for nearly a year’s worth of measures to stop infections within a hospital.

There seems to be general agreement within the industry about some of the steps needed to launch a successful effort to reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections:

  1. Employees must be educated about the relation between proper hand hygiene and patient safety. They must see the correlation.
  2. Sinks and alcohol gel dispensers must be readily available to the care providers and support staff in patient care areas. The easier the access, the better the compliance.
  3. The hospital must create a culture of patient safety. These practices must be a part of patient safety mindset.
  4. It is important to create environment where colleagues can freely remind one another to practice proper hand hygiene.
  5. It is also vital to create an environment where patients and families are educated about the importance of proper hand hygiene, and are given permission to ask their care providers to comply.
  6. A success program depends on measurement and reporting of compliance data at the unit level. Measurement is key to compliance. Accountability only comes into play if compliance is being measured.
  7. Ideally, there should be local champions for the hand hygiene campaign. Sure, the CEO or chief medical officer can be the standard bearer for the campaign, but it will only succeed if there are champions in the departments and units.

Most importantly, the hand hygiene campaign will not be successful if it lasts only a week or a month. It cannot be the idea of the week or program of the month. This needs to be a sustained effort and an ongoing program. Ultimately, in many cases you are working to change years of bad habits. This is about changing behavior. So be patient and make a long-term commitment to change. By sustaining the effort over time, your employees will come to see that this is not another fleeting fad, but part of a permanent commitment to patient safety on the part of your organization, its employees and leadership. Only then will your culture begin to change.

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