Without encouragement, some hospital workers across the country wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time when interacting with patients.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that drug-resistant superbugs are on the rise, and with hospital-acquired infections leading to nearly 100,000 patient deaths a year, hospitals are being strongly advised to encourage its workers to wash their hands.
Nationwide, some hospitals have installed motion sensors and video surveillance cameras to monitor health care workers and their hand-washing practices. In a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, motion sensors were installed at North Shore University in New York to monitor whether doctors and nurses washed their hands. During the first 16 weeks of the trial, the study found employees washed their hands at a rate of less than 10 percent. Once employees were confronted about their hand-washing practices, the rates rose to 88 percent.
At Ogden Regional Medical Center in Ogden, proper hand-washing is taught to and expected of the entire staff, even those who don't come into direct contact with patients, said infection control coordinator D. Kim Hale. The hospital also uses surveillance of staff and peer monitoring.
"Large signs are placed throughout the hospital, reminding caregivers to wash hands and to remind co-workers, families and others to do the same," she said. "We believe that strict adherence to proper hand hygiene for our caregivers is one of the most important aspects of patient care. We are attentive and vigilant at monitoring hand-washing."
In addition, the hospital has "secret shoppers" -- anonymous staff members who observe whether employees are washing their hands.
Shailyn Dickson, infection prevention and control specialist at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden said each department at the hospital has trained auditors who look for compliance with hand-hygiene standards. Staff are also taught why the emphasis on hand-washing is needed and the importance it plays in preventing infections or transmission of organisms.
"In regard to the superbugs and the organisms' resistance to multiple antibiotics, hand hygiene is an important factor in reducing the transmission of the organisms," she said. "We take precautions that are meant to limit the spread from person to person, which can include wearing gowns and gloves every time a health care member enters the room."
Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton also monitors its hand-washing practices, said infection preventionist Kathleen Pena.
"We set our goal to perform hand hygiene before and after entering all patient rooms and before and after any and all patient care," she said. "Education reminders are flashed over the Davis News Network screens, desktop computer screen savers and are provided in employee health and infection-prevention newsletters."
All local health professionals said they encourage patients and their family members to speak up when they are concerned about their care or if they are unsure whether something is being done incorrectly, and that includes workers washing their hands.
The CDC recommends at least 15 seconds of hand-washing, or about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."