Providers Should Get Used To Hand Hygiene Demands

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , December 9, 2009

Studies suggest that when caregivers are secretly monitored, they wash their hands only 50% of the time to prevent transmission. And when those same caregivers are asked, however, they think they cleansed 90% of the time.

Healthcare acquired infections are an increasing bête noir for hospitals. Not only are they estimated to affect 1.7 million patients each year, but 99,000 patients will die from them. And there is the cost of caring for patients who get infected, estimated at $35 billion to $45 billion a year.

And, of course, in October 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services instituted a policy that it will no longer reimburse for the additional care required for patients with hospital-acquired infections.

So there's a lot more at stake.

How aggressive will hospitals be to get better hygiene compliance?

I've heard and read about other ideas for hand hygiene, such as at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital in St. Peters, MO. Providers are giving each other Dalmatian-spotted cards that either carry rewards (such as a $2 coffee shop coupon) for good hand hygiene practices, or bad practice cards that say "We are putting you on the spot for not using hand hygiene."

Who knows? But I've even heard about using wireless technology that would give the provider a gentle buzz or zap if they entered a patient's room and neglected to tap the dispenser.

That may be going too far. But then again, maybe not.

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Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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