Secret Shopper Program Checks Hospitals' Hand Hygiene

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , November 13, 2009

Carmela Coyle, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, another supporting part of the coalition, says a big part of the project is the education that is going on now, before the observers start chronicling caregivers' behavior. "The education piece of this is dramatic,'' she says.

Davis was asked if there if there is ever staff friction if an observer's identity becomes known by the observed staff. "Sure, people might get upset. But we're not going in the direction of posting names."

"We're not going to be putting a scarlet letter on anyone's chest," says Davis.

Besides, he says, "while the observers may be noticed, on busy active floors they usually blend in."

"This is really all being done from the public health perspective, to reduce what everyone is so well aware of, the health risks from healthcare-associated infections," he adds. "How can we make it safer?"

Transmission of hospital-acquired infections is a major U.S. health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Estimating Health Care-Associated Infections and Deaths in U.S., 1.7 million infections were estimated to have occurred in U.S. hospitals in 2002, with approximately 99,000 deaths.

Another CDC report in March said the overall annual direct medical costs of healthcare-associated infections to U.S. hospitals ranges from $28.4 billion to $33.8 billion (after adjusting to 2007 dollars using the CPI for all urban consumers) this year.

The benefits of prevention can be assumed to range from a low of $5.7 billion, with 20% of infections preventable, to a high of $31.5 billion, if 70% of infections are preventable, the CDC said.

In addition to the above, other agencies involved in the Maryland project include the Maryland Patient Safety Center, the Maryland Health Care Commission, and the Delmarva Foundation for Medical Care.

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