Stop Hospital Germs in Their Tracks: The Simple Habit That Can Keep You Safe

It’s a shocking statistic: Almost 2 million Americans acquire infections in hospitals every year. With such a staggering number, it’s crucial to know how to lower your risk if you ever find yourself hospitalized. One simple and effective solution? Washing your hands frequently.

The Importance of Handwashing for Patients

While most studies on hospital-acquired infections have focused on the hand-washing practices of doctors and nurses, it’s important to remember that patients play a role in preventing infections as well. Research by Toronto-based health technology company Infonaut reveals that many patients don’t wash their hands enough.

According to the study, an alarming 70% of patients using the bathroom did not wash their hands afterward. This puts them at risk for picking up and transmitting the numerous microbes and pathogens that inhabit hospitals, especially from fecal-contaminated counters, sinks, and other surfaces found in hospital bathrooms.

Dr. Colin Furness, the director of research and knowledge development at Infonaut and a professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, emphasizes that “the extent of this problem has not been visible until now because it has not been measurable until now.” He explains that while enormous resources are devoted to research and practice for improving staff hand hygiene compliance, patient hand hygiene has received little attention.

Researcher Jocelyn Srigley further underscores the importance of this finding, stating that “getting patients to wash their hands more could potentially reduce their risk of picking up infections in the hospital.”

Breaking Down the Numbers

The study found several key statistics demonstrating the lack of handwashing among hospital patients:

  • During 12,000 trips to the bathroom, patients, on average, washed their hands only 30% of the time.
  • Patients washed their hands the least before breakfast (30%) and tended to do better before dinner (45%).
  • When entering and exiting hospital rooms, patients washed their hands only about 5% of the time.

These numbers are a clear indication that patients need to wash their hands more frequently to reduce their risk of infection while in the hospital.

How to Wash Your Hands Correctly

It’s important for patients to not only wash their hands more frequently but also to ensure they are washing their hands correctly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps for effective handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Make sure to cover all surfaces of your hands, including the back, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-drying them.

When to Wash Your Hands

It’s crucial for patients to wash their hands at key times to help reduce their risk of infection. Here are some important moments when you should wash your hands while in the hospital:

  • Before and after using the bathroom
  • Before and after eating
  • After touching any surfaces (especially in the bathroom)
  • After sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose
  • Before and after touching open wounds, bandages, or any medical equipment

The Role of Hospital Staff

It’s also essential for hospital staff to maintain good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of infections. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists the following guidelines for health care professionals:

  1. Clean their hands before touching a patient.
  2. Clean their hands before any clean or aseptic procedure.
  3. Clean their hands immediately after exposure to body fluids.
  4. Clean their hands after touching a patient.
  5. Clean their hands after touching a patient’s surroundings.

The Bottom Line

Together, patients and hospital staff can reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections by following proper handwashing practices. Washing hands frequently and correctly is a simple yet crucial step in ensuring a healthier and safer hospital environment for everyone.