Would you have the guts to remind your doctor to wash his or her hands before examining you? If you’re like most people the answer is “no,” even though you probably know hand-washing is an important way to keep physicians and healthcare workers from passing dangerous infections from one patient to another.
That’s the key finding of a new survey of patients at risk for healthcare-associated infections. The survey results, published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, underscores the need for healthcare facilities to do more to make patients feel it is OK to press healthcare workers to wash their hands.
"Our study shows that patients have a good understanding of the importance of appropriate hand hygiene in the healthcare setting to prevent healthcare-associated infections," said Andrew Ottum, a lead author of the study conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers. "What is clear is that more should be done to empower patients to feel comfortable asking their healthcare workers to wash their hands. This should be a focus of hand hygiene interventions."
Ottum and his colleagues surveyed 200 patients who were at risk for or who had a history of infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Clostridium difficile — two dangerous causes of many hospital-acquired infections.
Nearly all patients (99.5 percent) knew healthcare workers should wash their hands before and after caring for patients. Nine in 10 believed that healthcare workers should be reminded to wash their hands if they forget. But only 64 percent said they would feel comfortable asking nurses to wash their hands, and even fewer — 54 percent — indicated they would have no problem asking their doctors to do so.
What’s more, only 14 percent of the patients said they had ever asked a healthcare worker to wash his or her hands.
Many studies have shown hand-washing by healthcare workers can help reduce transmission of infections in hospitals and most medical centers have policies requiring staff members wash their hands or use an alcohol-based hand rub before and after seeing each patient.