From going technical to getting creative, hand hygiene options abound

Emily Nardone, Director Product Marketing, AiRISTA Flow

Hand hygiene compliance can be a thorn in the side of healthcare companies. Management teams train employees, ensure that everybody understands the implications of hospital-borne infections, and often even have auditors in place to monitor their clinical staff. All of this effort is put into establishing best practices, and still, many hospitals struggle to ensure compliance. This difficulty leaves healthcare organizations in a tough spot. To a great extent, proper hand hygiene is mission critical when it comes to providing patient care. However, putting too much effort into hand hygiene compliance can distract from patient care and other core goals.

Hospitals must develop strategies to improve compliance without disrupting everyday operations, and tactics that are proving successful range from the technical savvy to creative options that force clinical professionals to give hand hygiene paramount regard.

Looking at the hand hygiene compliance problem

A recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine found that hand hygiene compliance rates vary substantially depending on whether clinical staff members know they are being observed or if they think they aren’t being watched. A hospital trained students working on rotation in the hospital in proper hand hygiene procedures and asked those individuals to monitor compliance among staff.

The study found that physician hand hygiene compliance rates dropped approximately 19 percent when doctors thought they were not being watched, whereas compliance dipped 40 percent among nurses. The observations also showed that peer pressure has a genuine impact on hand hygiene, as compliance rates increased substantially when attending physicians were thorough about hand washing.

On the whole, the study pointed out that traditional auditing based on having humans in place to monitor hand hygiene practices needs to be ramped up because behavior changes substantially once the auditors aren’t watching.

Using technology to improve hand hygiene practices

Location tracking technologies can be used to electronically monitor hand hygiene stations, and connect with Wi-Fi tags worn by employees to identify who is watching their hands and when. This form of electronic monitoring ensures that employees know that compliance is being enforced even if they aren’t being watched. In fact, the strategy of using electronic tools to improve hand hygiene has already begun to pay off.

A recent study performed by the Greenville Health System in South Carolina and published by the American Journal of Infection Control found that hand hygiene compliance rates increased significantly when an electronic system was put into place. Furthermore, the rate of MRSA infections associated with the healthcare provider decreased significantly. The electronic monitoring program allowed the healthcare provider to stop depending on direct observation methods of hand hygiene compliance and save nearly one half a million dollars in care costs for the period of July 2012 through March 2015.

Taking compliance to another level

Technology can play a critical role in promoting hand hygiene by tracking employee behaviors without being invasive. Real-time location tracking systems eliminate the need to have highly trained staff regularly monitor workers and instead be able to focus on periodic check-ins to make sure clinicians aren’t just washing their hands, but are doing so properly. On top of that, the built-in audit trail associated with electronic location tracking eliminates clerical work. To boost, preventing hospital-borne infections leads to better patient care and cascading cost reductions as the cost of care drops.

Technology isn’t a cure-all, however, as it won’t necessarily change the culture of hand hygiene awareness in your hospital. Organizations must understand drivers and motivators for their workers then get creative as they work to get their staff on board with hand washing best practices.

Getting creative

Hospitals can get their staff on board with hand hygiene by coming up with different ideas to consistently remind them of the importance of fighting against bacteria, for instance. A study performed by the Henry Ford Health System found that taking magnified images of bacteria and placing them on common items in hospitals contributed to a 24 percent improvement in hand hygiene compliance.

Magnified pictures of bacteria were scattered around healthcare facilities – on mouse pads, workstations and similar locations – effectively reminded hospital staff of the “yuck factor” of poor hand hygiene and promoted best practices.

Every hospital is different, but combining strategic technology with creative methods that make sense for your staff can lay the foundation for an effective hand hygiene program. Give it a try and don’t be afraid to ask your technology vendors for support.


AiRISTA Flow, Greenville Health System, hand hygiene, hospital acquired infections, real-time location tracking system


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