Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Wash your hands, doctor, do less harm in hospitals

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan hospitals are making a priority to improve sanitary conditions for workers and patients.

More than 100 hospitals in Michigan are working to eliminate patients’ risks of infection. In June 2009, the hand hygiene compliance rate was 86 percent, far exceeding the national average of 40 percent recorded in 2002, according to the 2009 Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA) Keystone Center Annual Report.

Saint Mary’s Health Care in Grand Rapids encourages everyone to use proper sanitary procedures.

“We encourage everyone to make liberal use of sanitizers, and use of gloves and mask especially during the H1N1 season,” said Vice President Micki Benz.

Benz said sanitizer dispensers are placed throughout the hospital and patient rooms. Every worker has to take an online test on the spread of viruses and hand hygiene as part of annual review.

Health care workers may wash their hands up to 30 times per shift. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said smell, consistency and color of soaps and hand sanitizer play a factor in buying products.

The location of dispensers and sinks is important. For example, if sinks are located far from the door in the room, it may discourage healthcare workers from washing their hands when leaving the room.

Carrying pocket size hand sanitizer and availability of bedside dispensers, have improved hand hygiene procedures, according to CDC.

The cost of these products pays for itself, according to CDC estimates. The excess hospital costs associated with preventing even four or five hospital-associated infections may equal the entire annual budget for hand-hygiene products.

Rhea Sautter, infection control specialists for Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said patients and relatives should make sure that they and employees use proper hand hygiene.

“We encourage patients to wash their hands and for their family members to wash theirs when visiting,” Sautter said. “Patients should ask their doctor to wash their hands in front of them to ensure them their hands are clean.”

Sautter said the hospital places signs encouraging everyone to wash their hands. Infection Control Department staff monitor employees to ensure that they wash their hands after coming in contact with patients and equipment.

“The issue of hand hygiene is a big issue and has come to the fore-front,” Sautter said.

Sam Watson, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at MHA, said low-tech tactics may be successful.

For example, some hospitals use portable “glove rooms” where doctors and nurses doing normal activities can use special markers that glow in a black light and see bacteria from all areas they touched.

“It reinforces that even though you can’t see bacteria, they are there,” Watson said.

“Data show if you prevent infections, hospitals can save money. It prevents additional care that is necessary to treat infections which saves money. At present, healthcare reimbursement is designed to pay for poor quality care, ultimately that needs to change,” said Watson.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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