Healthcare News & Insights

Why hand hygiene is critical for patients

Hand hygiene isn’t just important for doctors and nurses. New information shows that getting patients to be more vigilant about washing their own hands can help stop the spread of superbugs and bacteria in hospitals. 

166142171Much attention has been paid to getting clinicians to improve their hand washing practices. And there’s been buzz about promoting better hand hygiene for hospital visitors. But patients’ hand washing has been mostly overlooked.

A research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine discusses why that shouldn’t be the case for hospitals.

In the letter, researchers looked at patients who were discharged from hospitals in Detroit to post-acute care facilities such as skilled nursing facilities, long-term care hospitals and rehabilitation centers. According to their findings, almost 25% of these patients carried a superbug on their hands upon discharge.

Once in the post-acute care setting, close to 10% of patients picked up another superbug – and 67% were still infected with the bacteria upon discharge from the post-acute care facility. Many patients didn’t get sick themselves, but they still carried the germs from setting to setting.

This could cause these germs to spread to patients throughout a facility – especially those with severely compromised immune systems.

Encourage patient hand washing

Past research has shown that hospital patients aren’t as diligent as they should be about washing their hands after visiting the bathroom, eating meals, or leaving and returning to their rooms. So it’s crucial for facilities to start placing more emphasis on having patients wash their own hands.

According to an article in Kaiser Health News, here’s one significant change hospitals should implement: Make it easier for patients to wash their hands.

There are sinks and dispensers located in convenient areas for clinical staff, so there should also be areas in hospital rooms where patients can have easy access to soap and water, or hand sanitizer, to clean their hands regularly.

And just as there are for visitors, hospitals should have signs encouraging patients to wash their hands on a regular basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has materials online geared toward improving hand hygiene in patients.

Per the CDC, patients should be sure to wash their hands:

  • before preparing or eating food
  • before and after any dressing or bandage changes
  • before touching their eyes, noses or mouths
  • after blowing their noses, sneezing or coughing
  • after using the restroom, and
  • after touching any hospital surfaces (e.g., bed rails, phones, bedside tables, doorknobs).

Adding a patient component to your hospital’s hand hygiene program can be very beneficial to curbing the spread of superbugs and other harmful bacteria in your facility.

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