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While most people are accustomed to seeing medical professionals in clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities wash their hands or use hand sanitizer just prior to patient interaction, they may fail to appreciate just how important this simple step truly is.

By taking the time to clean their hands, medical professionals aren’t just making their hands smell better or feel cleaner; they are actually killing potentially harmful bacteria and preventing the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

It can, of course, prove relatively easy to dismiss these dangers, believing that the spread of hospital-acquired infections is perhaps overblown in the media, and that dirty equipment, soiled linen and contaminated facilities are more likely vectors of bacteria than are dirty hands.

However, those in doubt should consider that that the World Health Organization has traced poor hand-washing techniques to millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of associated deaths each year.

In fact, the WHO recognized the problem as so great that it introduced a five-step strategy specifically designed to help improve hand-hygiene techniques that has since been adopted by over 15,700 health care facilities in 168 countries.

These five steps include the following:

  • Ensuring that medical professionals have access to alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Training medical professionals on what constitute the most important times in patient care to practice proper hand-hygiene techniques (i.e., before and after patient contact)
  • Monitoring of both compliance and feedback
  • Creating a culture of awareness about proper hand-hygiene techniques among personnel
  • Hanging visual reminders throughout facilities at designated care points

Interestingly, the WHO recently conducted a study to determine if this five-step strategy was proving effective in changing hand-hygiene behavior. Here, it examined more than 43 hospitals located in Africa, Costa Rica, Italy, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and determined the following:

  • Compliance with hand-hygiene techniques improved by 16 percent, from 51 percent to 67 percent, after the program was introduced
  • Overall understanding of the importance of hand-hygiene techniques improved by 33 percent after the program was introduced

Still, the WHO cautioned that far more work needed to be done concerning hand-hygiene techniques and halting the spread of bacteria.

“As resistance to antibiotics and other key medicines becomes more common, it is more essential than ever to reduce the number of avoidable infections in hospital,” said a WHO official. “The best way of reducing the number of people contracting antimicrobial resistant infections is to protect them from cross-transmission of germs through healthcare workers’ hands in the first place.”

If you believe that medical negligence contributed to the onset of an infection that caused you or a family member to suffer unnecessarily, consider speaking with an experienced attorney who will outline your options and fight to protect your rights.

Fierce Healthcare, “Doctors are worst hand-hygiene offenders,” Ilene MacDonald, August 27, 2013

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