Hospitals get tough with hand-washing offenders

Big Brother approaches one way to get docs and nurses to use soap and water
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It's so simple and effective against preventing illness yet healthcare workers continue to resist washing their hands. To get their doctors and nurses to tow the line and practice good hand-hygiene, hospitals are resorting to Big Brother-type approaches, The New York Times reports.

For example, Long Island's North Shore University Hospital has installed motion sensors that trigger a video camera whenever someone enters an intensive care unit room so workers in India can check to make sure doctors and nurses are washing their hands, according to NYT.

While drastic, hospitals have to try to do anything they can to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, which the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions reports cost $30 billion and lead to nearly 100,000 deaths each year.  And now money is on the line. Under federal rules, hospitals will lose Medicare money when patients contract preventable infections.

So in addition to launching hand-hygiene campaigns, using stickers and wristband technology to promote the importance of hand washing, the NYT reports hospitals across the country also are trying undercover methods, like radio-frequency ID chips that note when a doctor walks by a sink.

It seems counterintuitive that hospitals have to resort to such measures to encourage their workers to use more soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers. Some studies have attempted to offer explanations for the resistant behavior, such as complaints about dry skin or simply not liking to be told what to do.

And despite incentives like free pizza and coffee and the high-tech systems used to smoke out offenders, doctors and nurses have learned how to bypass the technology. "People learn to game the system," Elaine Larson, a professor in Columbia University's school of nursing who has made a career out of studying hand-washing, told the NYT. "There was one system where the monitoring was waist high, and they learned to crawl under that. Or there are people who will swipe their badges and turn on the water, but not wash their hands. It's just amazing."

To learn more:
- read the NYT article
- check out other hospitals hand-washing campaigns here and here

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