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Saving Lives with Proper Hand Hygiene this National Health IT Week

DebMed
September 20, 2013

As the healthcare industry recognized National Health IT Week September 16-20, there was talk about integration, interoperability, sharing of patient data and health information exchanges. But let’s not forget a topic that has been proven to save lives for more than 100 years – hand cleaning.

 

Hand hygiene complianceI applaud the numerous advancements in medicine and health IT that we have seen over the past decade. We’ve made strides in medication safety, secure patient record sharing and are seeing an incredible patient engagement movement with mobile apps and other technologies. I’m proud to be working in the healthcare field.

 

Now it’s time for a movement to begin for assuring proper hand hygiene, which today remains measured by healthcare staffer lurking with pen and paper in hand. In 2013, why are we using manual methods to track something known to be associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and 100,000 deaths each year?

 

While I don’t need a designated week to care about and have passion for what I do, I think National Health IT Week presents an opportunity to give pause and reflect on why we do what we do. So this National Health IT Week, I was and am focused, and implore everyone as a patient or family member of a patient, to understand how lives can be saved through proper hand hygiene.

 

More than 160 years ago, Ignaz Semmelweiss, an Austrian physician, proved the link between hand hygiene and reducing infections and deaths. Yet still today, we face this staggering statistic. And until the advent of this technology, “direct observation” had been considered the gold standard for measuring healthcare worker behavior. At its most basic form, a hospital staff member stands behind a doctor or nurse and checks off a box on a form with pen, paper and clipboard. One word comes to my mind with this type of process: Antiquated.

 

Whatever the threat of disease or infection – super bugs or flu season – hand washing, as simple and obvious at it seems, is always one of the first and highest recommended tactics for combatting the spread of contagious germs and bacteria.

 

Hospital-acquired infections, easily spread by improper hand hygiene, cost lives and dollars (as we’ve seen recently with JAMA’s information stating HAIs cost nearly $10 billion each year). More specifically:

 

  1. They kill 100,000 people each year in the U.S.
  2. Every year more than 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with HAIs
  3. The cost to U.S. hospitals alone is estimated at $28.4 to $45 billion annually according to the Alliance for Aging Research
  4. The prevalence of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) has remained steady at a rate of 1 in 20 hospitalized Americans contracting them

 

Technology now exists to aid in the fight against a surprisingly low level of hospital hand hygiene compliance – and it far surpasses any efficacy of the outdated direct observation method. The methodology of these technologies is seemingly simple, and importantly, they focus on the group mentality.

 

No more pen and paper. No more punitive singling out of hospital staff…or even incentivizing them with pizza and ice cream as a recent New York Times article touched on.

 

I want to save lives and I’m positive you feel the same. Implementing innovative, and extremely cost-effective, standards-based technologies can create real change and save lives. Let’s take a stand as inspiration to protect the two million patients who should not contract preventable healthcare-associated infections, and help prevent the ninety-nine thousand deaths caused each year. It’s time we take a harder look at hand hygiene in the healthcare space and do everything possible, including the simple act of properly washing our hands, to save lives.

 

About Paul Alper

 

Paul AlperPaul Alper is vice president strategy and business development for Deb Worldwide Healthcare, Inc. 

 

He has more than 25 years’ experience as a researcher, innovator, strategist and business leader in hand hygiene and has co-authored research on hand hygiene and compliance including several works with researchers from Columbia University.

 

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