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Warning: Healthcare Providers Aren’t Washing Their Hands As Often As They Should


You’d think healthcare workers would be experts when it comes to personal hygiene, but, according to the CDC, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should, which contributes to the spread of healthcare-associated infections that affect 1 in 25 hospital patients on any given day.

That’s why they launched the Clean Hands Count campaign, which “aims to improve healthcare provider adherence to hand hygiene recommendations, address myths and misperceptions about hand hygiene, and empower patients to play a role in their care by asking or reminding healthcare providers to clean their hands.”

Hand Hygiene Reminders

Based on the CDC’s recommendations, you might need to wash your hands as many as 100 times per 12-hour shift, depending on the number of patients and intensity of care. If you’re only caring for a few patients at a time, this may not apply to you, but primary care nurse practitioners see an average of 24 patients per day. That’s why the CDC says, “Healthcare providers should clean their hands before and after every patient contact to protect themselves as well as their patients from infections.”

You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after every patient, but it’s important to remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not kill C. difficile, a common healthcare-associated infection that causes severe diarrhea. Patients with C. difficile should wash their hands with soap and water regularly throughout the day. As the care provider, use gloves when caring for a patient with C. difficile.

Some have claimed that alcohol-based hand sanitizers lead to antibiotic resistance, but this is one of the myths the CDC is trying to put to rest.

You shouldn’t be afraid to broach this subject with your patients. Talk to them about the importance of proper hand hygiene and encourage them and their visitors to wash their hands often. Tell your patients it’s okay to ask about hand hygiene. You can talk to them about proper washing techniques, how often they should wash their hands, and how to best protect themselves from germs and infections.

Creating the Right Incentives for Your Employees

As a nurse manager or advocate for hand hygiene, you may be wondering if your colleagues are keeping up with these recommendations. However, motivating your colleagues to wash their hands more often can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating incentives for your team.

  • Posting Hand Hygiene Reminders and Information

One of the best ways to ensure proper hygiene around the workplace is to post visual reminders for your employees, including proper washing techniques, how often you and your colleagues should wash your hands, as well as information regarding patient communication. Post reminders and signs near washing stations, in the bathroom, hallways, breakroom and other high-traffic areas. Include Spanish directions and other translations to help spread the word.

  • Peer Pressure

According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, peer pressure may be the most effective way to incentivize your colleagues to wash their hands more often. For the study, hospital employees had the chance to earn a $1,200 bonus if the hospital as a whole met the compliance target. Staff hygiene was measured by “secret shoppers” dressed in ordinary clothing. Over the course of the 90-day period, workers received bi-weekly progress reports on the hospital’s progress.

However, physicians weren’t considered employees, so they weren’t eligible for the cash bonus. Nurses and other staff members had to find other ways to incentivize their colleagues, so they started posting the names of physicians on the wall if they were caught with clean hands.

Based on the results, nurses and other staff members improved the most during the 90-day period, but they quickly went back to their old ways when the study was over. Physicians improved their hand hygiene at a much slower rate, but they retained their new habits long after the end of the study.

  • Cash Incentives

Based on the study above, cash incentives may motivate your employees in the short-term, but these healthy habits may not be permanent. Coming up with the money for cash bonuses may also be unrealistic for some healthcare facilities.

  • Text Messaging

Sending your employees reminders via text message can also improve hand hygiene performance. According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, compliance improved when workers received text messages throughout the day. These messages included words of encouragement or congratulations to better motivate employees.

  • Extra Staff

Having extra staff members in the room can also improve hand hygiene compliance. A recent study in The Journal of Hospital Infection shows that bedside hand hygiene is improved when one or two extra healthcare workers are present in the room.

  • Offering Hand Sanitizer to Patients

You can also motivate your colleagues and employees to wash their hands more often by creating a facility-wide policy that healthcare providers must first offer hand sanitizer to their patients before using it themselves.

  • Wall-Mounted Hand Sanitizer Dispensers

Keeping dispensers at eye level can also improve hand hygiene performance. If dispensers are too low to the ground, your colleagues may not see them.


Keep these ideas in mind to reduce the number of infections in your facility. Everyone is responsible for their own hygiene. It’s all about creating the right incentives.


Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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