Healthcare News & Insights

More evidence why hospitals must educate patients about hand hygiene

If your hospital doesn’t include patients in its hand-hygiene efforts, it needs to start. Here’s why: New research suggests patients could be just as responsible as healthcare workers for spreading superbugs from one patient to the next by not thoroughly washing their hands. 

According to the study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the presence of superbugs is more prevalent in hospitals than you may think – even after cleaning patients’ rooms and disinfecting surfaces.

Researchers tested almost 400 patients at two different hospitals in Michigan shortly after they were admitted. Antibiotic resistant superbugs such as MRSA were present in the hands and/or noses of 14% of patients tested.

In addition, when researchers tested surfaces in patients’ rooms that are touched frequently, such as call buttons and tray tables, they came back positive for the same dangerous bacteria a third of the time.

Patients who arrived with hands contaminated with a superbug were more likely to pass that germ onto their hospital room’s high-touch surfaces. This created a chain reaction when healthcare workers touched these areas, then went to treat patients in other areas of the hospital.

Throughout their stay, an additional 10% of patients got new superbug bacteria on their hands – and nearly 22% of rooms were newly contaminated.

Only a handful of patients in the study actually contracted an infection – six patients ended up with MRSA. However, each patient had MRSA bacteria present both on their hands and on surfaces within their rooms.

Boosting hand hygiene in patients, visitors

This research highlights a new concern that clinicians may want to consider in their hand hygiene efforts: encouraging patients to frequently wash their hands during their hospital stay.

While hospital staff get repeated reminders about the importance of hand hygiene, patients don’t often receive the same message. But germs brought in by patients (or their families) from outside hospital walls can be dangerous, especially considering all the vulnerable patients receiving treatment at your facility.

It may be a good idea for your facility to include patients and their families in its efforts to boost hand hygiene, letting them know that regular handwashing is just as important to their treatment and recovery as following other instructions from clinicians.

Some facilities make hand-sanitizing stations available for hospital visitors in public areas. That may also be helpful, but it’s critical to encourage visitors to wash their hands with soap and water whenever possible.

Tackling all elements that contribute to the spread of superbugs, including patients’ role in fighting bacteria, can help your facility keep its infection rates lower in the long run.

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