Clean Hands Save Lives

By Dr. Jeff Powis, Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control
One interesting behaviour that I’ve noticed as an infectious disease physician is how nervously we health care workers approach a patient who may have bedbugs, or lice, or scabies. All of us – from physicians and nurses to the people who deliver food trays – tend to respect the infection control protocols of gowns and gloves and hand hygiene on these patients. Of course, that makes sense – we don’t want to bring home these “creepy crawlies” to our partners and children and thousand-dollar mattresses!
But what I find interesting is how many of us in the healthcare field don’t apply that same approach when the “creepy crawly” is not an insect but a bacteria or a virus.
On May 5th we celebrated the World Health Organization (WHO) World Hand Hygiene Day. This annual event is meant to raise the awareness and profile of the importance of hand hygiene. We all know that we need to wash our hands in order to prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Despite this knowledge, we don’t wash our hands enough. Our best estimates of hand hygiene compliance (HHC) at our own hospital are approximately 50%.
When you touch a patient in hospital (or their bed or their table), you are potentially contaminating your hands with whatever microbes happen to be living in that patient’s environment. And if you don’t “decontaminate” your hands as you leave that patient’s room, you are just as likely – probably more likely – to pass on that infection to another patient, a colleague, or a family member, as you are if the patient had bedbugs.
On the morning of May 5th we spent time with MGH staff asking each of them to make a pledge to improve their own HHC. We took pictures of you holding a WHO placard with the 2017 slogan “Fight Antibiotic Resistance: Its In Your Hands”. Below is a collage of over 150 MGH staff photos. We will be placing these posters all over the hospital as a reminder to all of us of our pledge to improve HHC.
Together, let’s all embrace improving our HHC and keeping our patients safer. Remember that some of the most harmful “creepy crawlies” are the ones the human eye can’t see, but hand hygiene can eliminate!
Follow me on twitter @jpowi

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