Mum’s the word for patients and hand washing

By: April 10th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Physician, wash thy hands. That’s something patients are still reluctant to express, according to a study published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

“Can We Expect Patients to Question Health Care Workers’ Hand Hygiene Compliance?” studied patients in an Australian hospital who were specifically encouraged to ask healthcare workers if they had washed their hands.

Patients spoke up less than 50% of the time before treatment, according to the journal’s news release. Nurses were asked about washing hands 67% of the time while doctors were queried only 43% of the time.

“The French proverb that states ‘a doctor is often more to be feared than the disease’ is relevant, because doctors consistently have the lowest [hand hygiene] compliance of all [healthcare workers],” the study’s authors write. “However, patients fear questioning their doctors.”


Sorry to admit, even I, an RN involved in infection control, had the same experience. 2 days after radical nephrectomy my surgeon came in wearing suit and tie, took his hands out of his pockets, and touched my incision with unwashed hands. I couldn’t say a word. I was so grateful he had just saved my life!! and felt honored that he came to see and care for me. Can you believe it? I can’t imagine the layperson easily being able to jump in… sign me Embarrassed.

I, too am an IP and even though my name badge clearly states this, staff act surprised when I point out they need to clean their hands first. And, as a patient, I have not been able to muster the courage to ask MD’s anymore as the response has been poor. I teach staff to be greatful and humble if a patient asks them to wash their hands but I surely don’t expect the patients to do this very often….

Like Lauren, as a patient I’ve not spoken up, yet as IP I’ve no problem approaching a physician otherwise. I’ve chastised myself, as have my peers as to why I didn’t advocate for myself and both times my reply: “he had the needle”. As a patient you feel vulnerable and heaven forbid I question their judgement… We’ve still got a long way to go…

I usually will speak up but for most of us, even healthcare workers, unless we are intimately involved wiht the initative, the poll is not reflective of results. I was in community focus groups with Don Wright, one of the HHS deputy directors a couple years ago. In attending the consumer groups, the results are clear- most will not speak up because they feel that the healthcare professional- esp. the physician- is highly educated and would do this even if they hadn’t seen it. I discussed the reality but esp. those that had no education beyond high school or some junion college- they indicated a reluctance to speak up. It is great, the JC expects this but they need to also do a better job of looking at the reality of the situation. Posters, buttons, even reminders from staff don’t change the overall public opinion that for the most part “the doctor knows best.” I have yet to see the JC or HHS spend money for an ad on primetime TV giving informaiton on this to patients. Until these messages are sent in current forms of communication- TV, Blogs, radio stations, it will not happen most of the time. I agree with Diane- we have a long way to go and the expectation is for the HCW to remember to do yet another job. But, there is no focus on using the opportunity of letting current medial and social blogs help us. We have a very, very long way to go.


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