Patients reluctant to tell providers to wash hands

Half of patients are uncomfortable with asking their providers to wash their hands, even though most of them are at risk for healthcare-acquired infections, according to a study in the December Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

University of Wisconsin researchers surveyed 200 patients at risk for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile, central line-associated bloodstream infection or surgical site infection. They found almost everyone (99.5 percent) agreed that healthcare professionals should wash their hands, but only 14 percent have actually asked a healthcare worker to do so.

"Our study shows that patients have a good understanding of the importance of appropriate hand hygiene in the healthcare setting to prevent healthcare-associated infections," lead study author Andrew Ottum said in a Monday statement. "What is clear is that more should be done to empower patients to feel comfortable asking their healthcare workers to wash their hands.

The study pointed out that patients are generally reluctant to call out their providers on hand hygiene. Although 64 percent of patients said they would feel comfortable asking nurses to wash their hands, even fewer (54 percent) would ask the same of their doctors.

One possible reason could be that providers may not be receptive to such instructions. According to earlier research in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 27 percent of clinicians say it's not a patient's place to instruct them to wash their hands. Even more, 37 percent of healthcare workers said they would refuse to wear a badge that would solicit patient inquiries on the issue. Those clinicians felt that such scolding would be upsetting or that there would be legal repercussions.

Still, other literature has found that providing individual feedback to clinicians on hand hygiene makes healthcare professionals twice as likely to wash their hands or use soap, according last month's study in PLOS ONE.

For more information:
- see the research announcement
- here's the study (subscription required)

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