With significant infections originating at hospitals and costing billions of dollars in medical treatments each year, hospitals are urging patients to speak to their physicians about their hand-washing habits.
Strict hand hygiene is tied to infection reduction in healthcare, according to The Wall Street Journal. So-called “hospital acquired infections” (HAIs)—picked up at hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient surgery centers, and doctors’ offices—are tied to some 100,000 deaths annually and affect more than one million patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite strong education efforts, hospital staff is only complying with hand washing protocols, which involve washing up with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer gels, about half of the time, according to the Journal. Two new studies reveal that patients are no more comfortable about asking their medical staff to wash up now than from a decade ago, according to the Journal.
Hospitals have dropped the incidence of some infections in recent years by eliminating unnecessary catheters, washing a patient’s skin before surgery with antibacterial soap, “wash in, wash out” protocols, and designating unidentified staffers to secretly monitor their peers, according to the Journal. In some facilities, merit increases and suspensions are implemented for compliance or for workers who ignore the rules. In fact, 2010 research involving a disciplinary program at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington revealed that suspending doctors’ privileges led to improved compliance rates.
Some hospitals rely on electronic sensors, thermal imaging, and video cameras to monitor hand hygiene; some issue badges that wirelessly record use of hand hygiene stations prior to entering a patient room; and some systems involve patients and electronic alerts that serve as reminders to staff and patients, the Journal reported.
The CDC released 16,000 copies of a video, entitled “Hand Hygiene Saves Lives,” meant for patient viewing at admission to help patients become more proactive in their care, the Journal reported. The video has been tied to an increase in patients requesting that their health care providers wash their hands treatment. “Hand hygiene is probably the most important thing health-care workers can do to protect their patients from infection,” John Jernigan, director of the CDC’s hospital infection-prevention efforts, and who appears in the video, told the Journal. According to Jernigan, when patients speak up, “a culture of safety,” is created.
HAIs contracted during medical treatment cost about $9.8 billion annually, according to research just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers reviewed published data from 1998 through April 2013; costs were adjusted for inflation into 2012 dollars.
The CDC also said that, in 2009, about one out of 20 hospital patients contracted an HAI during treatment, according to CBSNews.com. The JAMA report found that surgical site infections, infections of the bloodstream tied to central lines, pneumonia associated with a ventilator, urinary tract infections resulting from catheter use, and the particularly virulent C. difficle were also to blame, noted CBSNews.com.
According to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis) is just one type of HAI, which is also resistant to a number of antibiotics.
Staphylococcus infections, specifically MRSA, a type of staph that causes infections resistant to most antibiotics, sickens tens of thousands of Americans annually. MRSA can spread quickly and can lead to respiratory failure, surgeries, vital organ damage, and loss of limbs and hearing. About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur each year in the U.S., according to the CDC; most occur in hospitals and other health-care settings. In the U.S., MRSA kills some 20,000 people annually.