Handwashing more common in public restrooms than in hospitals

People who use public restrooms are more likely to wash their hands than physicians in America's hospitals, a leading scholar reports.

Michael Millenson, a visiting scholar at the Kellogg School of Management, compared data from a recent survey of public bathroom hygiene in the U.S. to hand hygiene compliance rates in U.S. hospitals, and found that "the guy who just used the toilet at Grand Central Station is ... way more likely to have clean hands than the guy walking up to your bed at the local hospital."

Writing on The Health Care Blog, Millenson noted that a recent survey by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute found that on average, 85 percent of adults washed their hands after using a public restroom.

He compared that rate with a finding from a 2009 American Journal of Medical Quality study, which measured a dismal 26 percent hand hygiene compliance rate for ICUs.  FierceHealthcare notes that findings from a 2010 Applied Nursing Research study said that 34 percent of healthcare workers wash their hands.

The numbers certainly give one pause. But there's a glimmer of hope. A select group hospitals involved in a Joint Commission quality improvement project managed to raise hand hygiene compliance rate from a baseline of 48 percent to a sustained average of 82 percent between April 2009 and June 2010.

At least some doctors and nurses are washing their hands as often as the stranger using the bathroom stall next to you.  

To learn more:
- see Harris Interactive's survey of handwashing behavior
- read The Health Care Blog's post
- read the abstract from the American Journal of Medical Quality
- here's the Joint Commission press release on a new interactive tool aimed at boosting hand hygiene compliance
- read the Microbe World article on the survey findings

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