Hospital workers comply with hand hygiene signs about patients, not themselves

Changing the language on signs that remind hospital workers about hand hygiene could actually affect compliance, according to a new study published in Psychological Science. Researchers found that healthcare workers were more likely to wash their hands and use dispensers when signs reminded them about their patients' health, rather than personal health risks.

"Most safety messages are about personal consequences. They tell you to wash your hands so you don't get sick," said Adam Grant, a psychological scientist at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release yesterday. "Our findings challenge prevailing wisdom in the healthcare professions," Grant said, "that the best way to get people to wash their hands is to scare them about their own health."

Instead, conveying the risks were much more effective when it was about others (notably a more vulnerable population), not themselves.

Researchers tested two signs. One sign said "Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases," whereas the other said "Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases." The signed geared at patient risk showed a 33 percent higher use in soap and gel dispensers and a 10 percent increase in hand-washing. The other sign about personal risks didn't affect hand hygiene, according to the press release.

Researchers noted that the interventions worked well in the beginning but then dropped off, recommending that hospitals consider changing signs frequently.

For more information:
- read the press release

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