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Engaging Patients and Families to Create Hand Hygiene Champions

Patrick Boshell
October 22, 2013

Hand SanitizerPatients, family members and visitors play an important role in preventing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) and ensuring patient safety. Healthcare organizations should share hand hygiene information and advice via ongoing communications.  Among the recommendations for healthcare providers:


Focus on the World Health Organization’s Five Moments for Hand Hygiene.  Advise patients, family members and visitors that healthcare workers should wash or clean their hands with alcohol-based rubs before touching a patient, before procedures such as catheter insertion, after contact with body fluids, after touching a patient and after touching patient surroundings.  Make sure patients, family members and visitors know that they have to right to inquire about and question healthcare workers—even physicians –to assure that they follow the WHO Five Moments for Hand Hygiene.  


Promote personal hand hygiene best practices to patients, family members and visitors.  Advise those who enter a patient’s room to clean their hands multiple times during the day—especially after eating and using the restroom. Equally important is engaging family members and visitors in monitoring the cleanliness of the patient room—perhaps even wiping down bed rails, IV polls or bedside tables with disinfectant.  Remind family members and visitors who are infected with a virus to avoid visiting hospitalized patients.


Advise patients, family members and visitors on hand hygiene choices.  Discuss the realities of hand hygiene. Alcohol-based rubs or sanitizers remove germs from the hands and cause less skin irritation than soap and water washing, while soap and water is the preferred solution when hands are visibly dirty, such as after using the washroom.  Make sure that everyone understands sound hand hygiene practice, including rubbing hands 20-30 seconds with an alcohol- based rub and cleaning hand surfaces and between the fingers.   


Tell the truth about HAIs and superbugs.  Let patients, family members and visitors know that HAIs are common, potentially serious, costly and largely preventable.  “Superbugs,” including as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and clostridium difficile or C-difficile, are known for their resistance to antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Make sure patients, family members and visitors understand that the healthcare organization is doing everything possible to prevent and manage HAIs.  Provide a simplified but complete explanation of the hospital’s infection control program, including its use of protective clothing and gloves, hand cleaners, hand hygiene monitoring devices and adherence to guidelines for handling blood and other contaminated items.


The WHO advises healthcare organizations to transform patients, family members and visitors into champions of hand hygiene compliance.  Among the WHO’s recommendations: 

• Empower patients:  Ensure that hand hygiene is performed at the right time and in the right way, guided always by the patient’s willingness to participate.

• Secure support:  Engage others to assist with patient advocacy or education or to lobby for funding and or improved facilities.

• Build staff involvement:  Ensure buy-in of healthcare workers to support greater engagement and empowerment of patients in hand hygiene improvement.      


International Infection Prevention Week 2013 & DebMed


International Infection Prevention WeekIn recognition of, and to shed much needed light on International Infection Prevention Week (Oct 20-26), this is one in a series of blog articles from DebMed dedicated to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Five Moments for Hand Hygiene.  To view all articles in this series as they become available, please click here.


DebMed is the creator of the world’s first electronic hand hygiene compliance monitoring system based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Five Moments for Hand Hygiene, and these moments dictate our standards for hand hygiene compliance in a tireless effort to decrease the spread of preventable and deadly hospital-acquired infections.


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