Healthcare News & Insights

Patients play role in promoting hand hygiene

Getting clinical staff on board with hand hygiene is essential to stopping the spread of disease in hospitals. To do so, many facilities are making patients more active partners in reminding their providers to wash their hands, and they’re using unique tactics to do so. 

According to a news release, the West Virginia University School of Medicine tested a patient engagement tool designed to make it easier for patients to ask their providers about hand hygiene.

Researchers also surveyed providers and patients about their attitudes toward the practice and the tool. The results were published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Broaching the subject

To get a good sample of patients, researcher tested the tool with both child and adult patients. Adult patients were asked to use the tool themselves to remind providers about hand hygiene. Parents were recruited for their children.

The tool was a visual aid. Participants were asked to hold up a small cartoon graphic attached to a tongue depressor with a reminder for doctors and nurses to wash their hands.

When surveyed about their comfort with using the tool to prompt providers to wash their hands, over 95% of parents and 77% of adult patients felt it was their role to speak up if a doctor forgot to wash his or her hands. However, smaller numbers (77% of parents and 65% of patients) felt comfortable bringing the issue to a doctor’s attention.

Generally, participants were more likely to ask nurses to wash their hands than doctors. The most common reason why people didn’t want to press the issue was shyness. However, others cited fear that doing so would damage the patient-physician relationship.

Judging by some of the responses clinicians had, patients’ fears may be warranted. Only a slight majority of providers surveyed (55%) felt that patients should directly remind providers to perform hand hygiene. Nearly 38% of those opposed to the practice believed it wasn’t patients’ responsibility.

Of all providers who didn’t mind if patients asked them about washing their hands, most said they’d prefer patients to remind them with words instead of the patient engagement tool. However, many patients liked the using the tool.

Open to feedback

Whether patients use a visual tool or just verbal reminders to discuss hand hygiene with clinical staff, it’s clear providers need to be more receptive to patients’ input about washing and sanitizing their hands. Rather than feeling it’s not patients’ role, providers should encourage patients to be proactive if they notice doctors haven’t cleaned their hands.

Empowering patients to challenge providers if they believe there’s an issue is essential to making them more engaged partners in their own health care. And with infection rates being so high, making sure doctors perform basic hygiene is important to patients’ health and recovery, since hand washing is one of the best ways to stop the spread of bacteria in hospitals.

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