THE STRUGGLE TO GET HOSPITAL PERSONNEL TO WASH THEIR HANDS. This article by Claudia Kalb in Yahoo News tells about the efforts of Vanderbilt University Medical Center to get personnel to wash their hands when they should. The effort began in July 2008 when the senior vice president for quality, safety and risk prevention at the medical center sat with his wife after she had undergone double knee surgery. He counted 92 times when a staff member should have washed their hands; only 32 of the times did they do so. The multi-year campaign has been a success. Hand washing rates have gone from 58% to 97%, with a lowering in the number of infections. For example, three different kinds of infections have been reduced by from 33% to 80%.

However, the effort that is described in the article shows that it is difficult to get people to wash their hands. In fact, the campaign met with resistance from several department chairs. The campaign set up an observer in each department who monitored and documented hand washing 20 times a month. Departments who underperformed received an “intervention letter” from the superiors. Competition among departments and financial incentives were used.

The extent of the effort demonstrates how difficult it is to change lifetime habits. When I was born in 1942, antibiotics were just being introduced. As I posted on here, I was raised in a world where people were very aware of germs. Washing hands became a habit when I was very young.

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  1. I have had to ask doctors to please wash their hands, or to change the rubber
    gloves they have put on but then used to touch something that had not been
    sanitized (a doorknob, a file cabinet drawer: what are they thinking?). One
    doctor I simply left, sending her a satisfyingly angry letter as well, as she had
    also burnt me with a speculum and defended herself with, “I was warming it
    for you.” Please, don’t do me any such favors.
    While I was at it, I also send a letter to the doctor who was making a show that
    he was trying to diagnose me with Lyme Disease. And his most persistent question was:
    How many deer do you see per day on your property. I pointed out to him in the
    letter that that was like asking someone who wanted to know if she was pregnant
    how OFTEN she had unprotected sex. Give me a break!

  2. Annalisa says:

    Maybe I’m asking the wrong question here, but I’m curious why the medical personnel in these studies demonstrate such resistance to washing up. Does it take too long? Does it dry out their hands? Is the soap perceived as expensive? I wonder if it’s a case of the cleansing system somehow inconveniencing them and if that could be tinkered with.

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