Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital uses spies to catch non-handwashing employees

It’s not as if employees don’t know to wash their hands. But time-crunched staffers can easily forget to hit the sanitizer on the way out of a patient’s room. One hospital found a new approach to improve compliance. 

Abington Memorial Hospital, just outside of Philadelphia, began a multi-pronged program to virtually eliminate hospital-acquired infections. Among the steps taken: Using staff “spies” to make sure everyone involved in a patient’s care washed their hands both before entering the room and immediately after leaving it.

That’s the kind of labor-intensive program usually not undertaken unless a hospital is extraordinarily committed to fighting infection.

The hospital put together a team of staffers who tracked how many times other employees washed with soap and water or used the hand sanitizers stationed outside each room. For a staffer to get a “Yes” notation for proper handwashing they had to:

  1. use the right form of handwashing (i.e. using soap and water, not hand sanitizer, after touching blood or feces), and
  2. wash both on the way into the room and on the way out.

The first report showed a compliance rate of only 31%. The worst offenders? Physicians.

Selling the idea

To improve, the hospital took several steps, including putting up more sanitizer dispensers, putting handwashing “reminders” as the screensavers on all hospital computers and sharing the case of a previously healthy patient who had died from hospital-acquired MRSA.

The hospital also made it clear that patients, families and any employees — from physicians to janitors — should feel comfortable asking whether a staffer washed his or her  hands before touching a patient.

Less than two years later, a follow-up handwashing survey showed compliance at 88%. More importantly, rates of infections in patients are down significantly.

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