As part of my ongoing kitchen remodeling project, visitors to my home now have the option to relax on couches and watch me cook. I joke that it prevents me from serving anything I drop on the floor, but my real worry is that I’ll forget to wash my hands appropriately (between handling meat and vegetables or the like) and someone will call into question my ability to safely prepare food.
Now I have a pretty good record in that I have no reported instances of my guests contracting a food related infection (at least not that I’m aware of). Unfortunately many hospitals can’t say the same when it comes to healthcare acquired infections or HAI’s. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that for every 20 patients in the hospital, one gets an infection. That’s two million infections annually. The simple act of handwashing breaks the chain of infection. So why don’t healthcare workers do it every time?
A quick scan of articles on the topic show handwashing rates of 37% to 77% for healthcare workers. Interventions to increase these numbers, including education, posters, and even personal hand sanitizer dispensers that monitor the number of uses, have all met with limited success. When no one’s actively paying attention to handwashing compliance, handwashing rates drop and infections increase.
Some institutions have encouraged patients to ask healthcare workers whether they’ve washed their hands before a treatment is given. I contend that the majority of hospital rooms and outpatient exam rooms have sinks or are equipped with hand sanitizing dispensers. It’s clear to most patients who has, and hasn’t washed their hands, but they’re too intimidated to demand only clean hands be placed on them. Since healthcare workers have shown they’re unwilling or unable to consistently wash their hands, patients need to demand it whether it’s comfortable or not.
You can be polite: “Did you want to wash your hands before you examined me?”
Belligerent: “Hey, I don’t want the cooties from your last patient. Wash up!”
Indirect: “Did you see that Dr. Oz episode on handwashing? Amazing how many doctors don’t follow the guidelines.”
Matter of fact: “I don’t want to walk out of here with an infection, so please wash your hands.”
It doesn’t matter how you want to phrase it, if you value your health, you’d better say it. Every time. Don’t wait for your healthcare worker to protect you, protect yourself.