4 Ways Clinicians Can Promote Hand Hygiene

July 10th 2016
Jeanette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Jeanette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

Good hand hygiene is the most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of health care-associated infections, and the most important individuals in the hand hygiene chain are health care workers.

Good hand hygiene is the most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of health care-associated infections (HCAIs), and the most important individuals in the hand hygiene chain are health care workers (HCW).

The annual cost of treating HCAIs ranges from $28 billion to $45 billion. Each year in the United States, approximately 20 million patients contract infection or disease from HCWs, and 90,000 die. A good hand hygiene regimen that includes washing hands often, wearing gloves, using antiseptic hand rub appropriately, and generally keeping your hands germ-free can protect you and your patients.

Hand hygiene compliance is just as important in retail clinics as it is in hospital settings, especially because clinics often lack the infection prevention resources and infrastructure that hospitals have. Like hospital workers, retail clinicians often perform multistep procedures, treat severe illnesses, and have time-sensitive work—all of which underscore the need for infection prevention practices and programs.

Most clinicians think they keep their hands clean, but research shows there is always room for improvement. One study that tested 17 HCWs at wound care facilities for hand pathogens acquired during patient encounters found that the HCWs obtained at least one hand pathogen during 28.3% of all patient encounters.

Heavy workloads and hectic schedules are not excuses for poor compliance with hand hygiene. Here are 4 simple ways clinicians can promote hand hygiene.

1. Make clean hands a priority for your patients and yourself.

Keep nails short, and don’t wear artificial nails. Find antimicrobial handwashing and antiseptic hand rub products that you like.

When you wash, rub your hands for at least 15 seconds, dry your hands, and use the paper towel to turn off the faucet. Follow the manufacturer’s direction when you use alcohol-based rub.

Also, make sure to wash your hands when they are visibly dirty and between every patient. Use lotions to keep your hands in good shape, but check the label make sure they don’t reduce the effectiveness of antimicrobial soaps.

2. Practice hand washing mindfulness.

Acknowledge that you might skip hand washing when things are hectic in the clinic. Clinicians can practice hand washing mindfulness in 2 ways:

  • Remember you are participating in an act of self-care and preventing infection
  • Use the moment to reflect on the day and your reactions

HWCs jump from task to task without really thinking. The hand-washing process can be an opportunity to reflect.

3. Consider launching an initiative in your workplace

Clinicians and other employees should familiarize themselves with CDC guidelines, which include:

  • Indications for handwashing and hand antisepsis
  • Hand hygiene technique
  • Surgical hand antisepsis
  • Selection of hand hygiene agents
  • Skin care
  • Other aspects of hand hygiene

The CDC launched a campaign to notify patients that it’s okay to ask HCWs to wash their hands. One idea could include signs in the workplace encouraging patients to ask HCWs whether or not they’ve washed their hands.

To prevent patients from feeling as though they are challenging their care providers, the initiative could include anonymous feedback cards that patients complete at the end of their visits. You can also consider directly letting patients know when you’re sanitizing your hands.

4. Make hand washing a game.

To make hand washing interesting, calculate how much soap and sanitizer you should use in a typical week. Just multiply the number of times you should wash by the amount of soap youshoulduse, and make a similar calculation for sanitizer. Then, look at your records and determine how much soap and sanitizer you ordered and used.

Most clinicians are surprised when they fall short of expectation. It’s a handy way to tell if you need to improve.

Related Content