Hand Hygiene Matters

Hand hygiene is a task that should be practiced continually and consistently during every healthcare provider’s long and arduous work day. It is basic infection control practice and patients should be able to feel confident that when a clinician examines them, they have properly cleaned their hands. 

Surprisingly, studies show that healthcare providers perform hand hygiene less than 50% of the time for which it is indicated. In fact, in most healthcare facilities in the United States, studies show adherence to CDC hand hygiene recommendations ranges between 20 and 40%, which may be one of the reasons that on any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Hands can be one of the main pathways of germ transmission during medical care, therefore, hand hygiene is one of the most important measures in the control and prevention of infection.

The good news is, this form of infection transmission can be easily and effectively stopped. We will have a healthier America when everyone, especially clinicians follow proper hand hygiene practices.

Last week, the CDC Foundation announced a partnership with GOJO that will provide CDC branded hand hygiene educational materials and tools for patients, healthcare providers and caregivers in U.S. healthcare facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and other settings. The goal of this initiative is to promote safe hand hygiene practices in these settings to help reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

During the course of 2016, the hand hygiene educational outreach campaign is hoping to accomplish the following:

  • Improve healthcare provider knowledge and awareness of when and how to practice hand hygiene and make it a priority.
  • Change attitudes and beliefs by addressing the myths and misperceptions surrounding hand hygiene practice among healthcare providers.
  • Empower patients, their caregivers, and their loved ones to act as patient advocates and to work together with their healthcare providers to play a role in the promotion of hand hygiene practices throughout the patient’s course of treatment.

With these goals in mind this effort will work to specifically target healthcare providers and patients/caregivers/visitors in certain healthcare settings which include: acute care facilities, long-term acute care facilities, nursing homes, and dialysis facilities.  

Promoting hand hygiene will improve patient safety by preventing future HAIs and HAI-related deaths in hospitals and other healthcare settings, thus improving patient-provider relationships and lowering the economic burden of these healthcare costs.

This project is part of the Safe Healthcare Initiative, a partnership program coordinated by CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion (DHQP) and the CDC Foundation to eliminate healthcare-associated infections. Other efforts include the Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients program, the Safe Injection Practices Coalition, patient tools for antibiotic stewardship programs and analyzing antibiotic use in U.S. healthcare settings.

Clifford McDonald, MD, is senior advisor for science and integrity in CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.