Why hospitals shouldn't make patients the hand-washing police

A video produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging patients to make sure their doctors have washed their hands--but that's the wrong way to go about it, according to an editorial in MedCity News.

If the failure to wash hands is that serious a problem, infection control specialists, not patients, should have the responsibility to find solutions, writes David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners. He cites plenty of ways to achieve hand-washing compliance without involving patients, including actively educating clinicians on the subject, using technology to monitor hand-washing and making failure to wash subject to malpractice claims.

"If you believe the conventional wisdom," Williams writes, "then physicians will be so focused on avoiding lawsuits through defensive medicine that they'll instantly get to 100% compliance on hand washing."

Furthermore, Williams asks, if hospitals expect patients to scrutinize their doctors' hand-washing, what other responsibilities should they give patients?  For example, should patients also be responsible for confirming that their doctors have performed the right tests, made the right diagnosis, prescribed the right medication and dosage and stored it correctly?

"All of these things--and many, many others--are important, but I count on the hospital to deal with it and the regulators to oversee that it's done," he states. "I want quality ratings that take into account these issues and I don't mind payment incentives that reward certain behaviors and penalize others."

Patients may agree with Williams on the issue. A study last year found nearly half of patients would be uncomfortable with asking their providers to wash their hands. And although poor hand hygiene causes millions of infections every year, an August study found doctors have the lowest hand-washing compliance of all healthcare workers, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the editorial