CU urges hospitals to disclose handwashing rates
October 15, 2007
Handwashing Compliance Rates
AUSTIN, TX — As “Hospital Infection Prevention Week” (October 14-20) begins across the country, Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is calling on hospitals nationwide to disclose their hand washing compliance rates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers proper hand hygiene to be the single most important factor in protecting patients from hospital acquired infections, which kill nearly 100,000 Americans every year. Yet most hospitals fail to ensure that health care workers follow proper hand hygiene practices on a consistent basis.
“Clean hands save lives,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Stop Hospital Infections campaign (www.StopHospitalInfections.org) . “Unfortunately, most hospitals have a poor track record when it comes to making sure caregivers are protecting patients from infections by cleaning their hands properly.”
Numerous studies have documented that hand hygiene compliance rates in most hospitals are unacceptably low – usually below 50 percent. That means, on average, doctors, nurses and other health care workers are failing to clean their hands properly with over half of their patients. A recent survey by the Leapfrog Group found that only 35.6 percent of all hospitals have proper hand hygiene policies recommended by the CDC in place. The Leapfrog Group did not assess whether the hospitals were following their policies.
Research shows that bacteria causing infections is often transmitted by the unwashed hands of health care workers who have touched a patient colonized with bacteria or a surface in the patient’s environment that is contaminated. Caregivers who leave the bedside of a colonized patient without following proper hand hygiene can carry hundreds of thousands of units of bacteria on their hands. Even if caregivers wear gloves while caring for such patients, they sometimes contaminate their hands when removing gloves covered by bacteria.
According to the largest hospital-wide survey of health care workers conducted on this subject, compliance with proper hand hygiene practices was lowest in intensive care units and during procedures that carry a high risk of bacterial contamination. Other studies have found a connection between poor hand hygiene and understaffing or overcrowding at hospitals.
“Patients expect hospital caregivers to have clean hands, but this expectation is not always met,” said McGiffert. “One way to restore patient confidence is for hospitals to come clean by disclosing their hand washing compliance rates. Almost every hospital in the country has conducted hand hygiene campaigns in the last few years and now it’s time for them to show us the results.”
Nearly two million patients develop infections while being treated for other conditions in the hospital every year. These patients require extra care and often end up staying longer in the hospital to recover, which adds billions of dollars to the health care bill paid by insurers, consumers, and taxpayers every year.
In a recent report based on data collected from its hospitals, Pennsylvania found that insurers paid nearly $46,000 more for patients with infections than for patients without infections. Dr. John A. Jernigan, Chief of Interventions and Evaluations at the CDC, has said that these infections result in up to $27.5 billion in additional hospital-related expenses annually.
Consumers Union’s Stop Hospital Infections campaign works for public disclosure of hospital-acquired infection rates. Over the past few years, Consumers Union has helped enact requirements in 19 states to make infection rates public. For more information, see:
To learn more about the CDC’s recommended hand hygiene policies for hospitals, see:
To find out more about “Hospital Infection Prevention Week,” sponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control, see: http://www.apic.org
Lisa McGiffert –512-477-4431, ext 115 or Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747, ext 126