Many doctors don’t appreciate patients telling them to wash their hands

Doctor examining patient
Sixteen percent of the 80 doctors surveyed in the study said that they were embarrassed when patients reminded them to wash their hands. (Getty/kazoka30)

When patients remind doctors about hand hygiene it improves compliance rates, but physicians don't necessarily welcome the suggestion. 

A new study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, found that only a little more than half of primary care physicians (54.9%) felt that patients should remind healthcare providers to follow guidelines for hand hygiene.

And overall, physicians said they would prefer a patient make the request verbally, rather than using a patient empowerment tool to remind them to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. As part of the study, patients and parents of hospitalized children at the West Virginia University (WVU) Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital were given colorful, cartoonish signs they could use to remind physicians and nurses about hand hygiene.


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The laminated pictures, attached to a tongue depressor, didn’t go over well with many of the 89 doctors (29 residents and 60 attending physicians) who returned a survey as part of the study by WVU School of Medicine researchers.

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Of the physicians who did not support patient reminders:

  • 37% said it was not the patient's responsibility to remind physicians to perform hand hygiene
  • 16% said it was embarrassing to the doctor
  • 13% said it would have a negative impact on the patient-physician relationship.

The study noted that if patient involvement in hand-hygiene compliance is to be successful, healthcare workers must accept it as helpful and not as a threat. "Based on the results of this study, patient empowerment appears to be an effective strategy to facilitate healthcare workers' adherence to hand hygiene, but acceptance of the PET [patient empowerment tool] by providers remains a challenge," Alison Lastinger, M.D., who led the research team, said in an announcement.

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