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Hand-hygiene helps. But, studies show hospital workers wash their hands less frequently by end of workday

A few weeks back we talked about how hand-hygiene can significantly decrease hospital-contracted infections, and by extension reduce healthcare organization costs — not to mention reduce unnecessary infection-related deaths. A new study out shows that hand washing frequency drops off near the end of healthcare professional worker’s shifts.

Led by Hengchen Dai, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers analyzed three years of hand-washing data from more than 4,000 caregivers in 35 hospitals across the U.S. They discovered that hand-washing compliance rates plummeted an average of 8.7% by the end of a normal 12-hour shift.

Hospital-contracted infections account for nearly 100,000 deaths per year in the United States, making it a serious problem in need of attention. From December 2006 through December 2008, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) initiated the 5 Million Lives Campaign with the aim of supporting the improving medical care, and significantly reducing levels of morbidity (illness or medical harm such as adverse drug events or surgical complications) and mortality.

Hospitals participating in the Campaign were asked to prevent 5 million incidents of medical harm over the two-year period. The IHI continues its efforts to reduce incidents of medical harm in the article What Zero Looks Like: Eliminating Hospital Acquired Infections.

There is no doubt that hospital-acquired infections are a serious issue. There are also large amounts of evidence that shows a few simple methods can significantly reduce their number.

The road to lower mortality rates, and reduced hospital costs, begins with establishing a commitment to a culture of quality. Then providing staff with the tools they need to easily record, measure and report their performance.