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A Closer Look: Hospital Hygiene and Infection Control

Infection Control in hospitals

The tired hospital cook was a gamer, sick with a bad cold but working faster than world hot dog eating king Joey Chestnut at the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. He was making sandwiches, serving up pastas and preparing steaks. He was working two hundred miles per minute with raw meat, poultry and noodles and focusing on everything but one small but essential detail.

Unknowingly in violation of hospital protocol and the law, he wasn’t washing his hands regularly or wearing sanitary gloves. The cook’s dishes were hits with his cafeteria’s customers, a mix of doctors, nurses, patients and visitors. The cook unknowingly transferred bacteria – invisible to the naked eye – from his hands to his customers, contaminating their food. Several customers came down with food poisoning, leading to several sick doctors and nurses, sicker patients, lawsuits, lost public confidence in the hospital and financial disaster for the facility.

Regular use of hand sanitizer or a pair of disposable sanitary gloves and the ill cook remembering to adhere to safe food preparation practices could have changed everything.

This hypothetical scenario is a nightmare for every hospital and health center, where proper health sanitation practices are essential for institutions which already have their hands full managing and containing viruses and bacterias. In fast-paced work environments, it can be easy for employees to overlook hand hygiene rules or rush through the routine process of washing their hands.

But health care professionals like registered Montana-based nurse Melody Finch say proper hand hygiene is the first step toward preventing the transmission of viruses and bacteria. All hospital personnel, from attending doctors to admittance nurses to sanitary engineers, need to adhere to proper hand-washing practices to helping patients avoid infections and sicknesses from spreading.

It’s tempting for all of us to give handwashing the CliffNotes’ treatment.

Proper handwashing reminders are common in public places in America like shopping malls. Signs above sinks give us step-by-step instructions on proper handwashing, like taking 20 seconds to thoroughly clean our hands.

How many of us have taken the time or even had inclination to read handwashing signs?

Finch says few people are versed on proper washing methods when using hand sanitizers. It’s tempting to just put a dollop into our hands, rub them for a couple seconds and pronounce our hands germ-free. Finch says proper hand sanitizing procedure is to put the dollop into our hands, rub it all over our palms  upside and down until our hands our actually dry. This procedure should take 15 to 20 seconds. The five-second rush job doesn’t get the job done.

Patients have the right to ask their nurses and doctors if they’ve washed their hands before administering treatment. Hospitals are Ground Zero for the transmission of infections. A recent Centers for Disease Control report found each day 1 in 25 U.S. Patients contracts an infection in the hospital. That adds up to 722,000 infections each year.

The report found that every day more than 200 Americans with healthcare-associated infections will die.

U.S. Hospitals and healthcare centers are working to reduce those alarming numbers. Montana doctor Rodney Ogrin created a portable hand-sanitizer that clips to a person’s clothes, an idea that came from a conversation with a physician lamenting the state of hand-hygiene in the healthcare industry. The idea is to make hand sanitizer available to healthcare professionals at every point of care. Several hospitals across the country have adopted Ogrin’s product in the past year. This is just one measure hospitals are using to prevent the spreading of hospital superbugs, which take patients’ conditions from bad to worse.

Back in the cafeteria, hand sanitizer can be weapon No. 1 in preventing the transmission of infectious agents. The American Journal on Infection Control cites a May 2011 study designed to improve hand hygiene in a hospital cafeteria. The study used posters to encourage hand hygiene among health care workers and hospital visitors.

Over five weeks, a poster intervention with an accessible hand sanitizer unit was installed the cafeteria. During 27 hours of observation, 5,551 participants were observed and overall hand hygiene attempts by hospital guests improved significantly.

The findings were clear: U.S. Hospitals with easily accessible hand sanitizer can improve the overall hand hygiene of their guests and employees.  In and outside of America’s hospitals and healthcare centers, the need for readily available hand sanitizer has never been clearer.

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