With healthcare acquired infections on the rise, there has been increased attention given to hand hygiene compliance in healthcare settings. The majority of that focus to date has been centered on cleansing of the hands of healthcare workers with little attention paid to the hand hygiene practices of patients.
Margaret Murphy, Lead Adviser with Patients for Patient Safety (a core action within the World Health Organization [WHO] Patient Safety Programme) recently stated that “the patient is without a doubt the individual with the greatest vested interest in their healthcare outcomes; a first step in improving healthcare outcomes is our commitment which says we will proactively engage patients in their own care.”1
On May 5, 2013, WHO issued a call to action and encouraged patient participation in hand hygiene promotion and regarded patient empowerment as a critical component.1 Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Joint Commission have recommended engaging patients in hand hygiene efforts.2-3 It appears that the tide is turning, and patient participation is becoming an important component to a successful multifaceted hand hygiene promotion program.
WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health.”4 So how can we empower patients to become actively engaged in stopping the spread of germs?
Certainly education is a key component of any comprehensive hand hygiene program. We need to teach patients the why, when and how of handwashing/hand sanitizing and continue with timely reminders throughout their stay. But education is only part of the solution.
We also need to make it easy and convenient for patients to clean their hands. We can do this by ensuring that they have access to the products that they need to perform hand hygiene at the appropriate times.
It is imperative that healthcare workers evaluate the hand hygiene needs specific to each patient and address the challenges and barriers. Many patients have mobility issues that make getting back and forth to the restroom for soap and water difficult or impossible. Having alcohol-based hand sanitizer and alcohol-based hand sanitizing wipes within arms’ reach at all times equips patients with the tools that they need to gain greater control of hand hygiene practices to stop the spread of germs that may make them sick.
While the short-term benefits of engaging patients in hand hygiene may be a decrease in the transmission of germs within healthcare facilities, communities may also benefit from patient engagement and empowerment if patient hand hygiene practices are carried with them into their communities after their hospital stay. This message is especially important this week as hospitals across America are recognizing Patient Safety Awareness Week, led by the National Patient Safety Foundation.
For more information on patient hand hygiene, go to GOJO Healthcare or view the CDC patient admission video at http://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/Resources.html#Patients.