Krissy Brinsley-Rainisch, MPH
CDC Health Communications Specialist
CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion
Performing hand hygiene is a simple, mundane task. It is a very low tech action but has been shown to dramatically reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Still, there are a multitude of reasons why it isn’t always practiced as recommended: forgetfulness, too busy, lack of supplies, etc.
Patients and their loved ones can play an important role in the prevention of HAIs – they can ask or remind healthcare providers to wash their hands. CDC recently produced a video that encourages people to do just that. People often feel intimidated to question a healthcare provider, or they may even fear retaliation. We found in our evaluation of the video that healthcare providers are comfortable being asked by patients and their family members to perform hand hygiene, and more importantly, they would perform hand hygiene after being asked.
It can be difficult to speak up, especially when you are sick. Having a family member with you can help. The discomfort of speaking up outweighs the potential consequences of not doing so. Here’s one way to do it:
Patient: “Doctor, I’m embarrassed to even ask you this, but would you mind cleansing your hands before you begin?”
Clinician: “Oh, I washed them right before I came in the room.”
Patient: “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to do it again in front of me.”
Clinician: “Sure, no problem.”
Patient: “Thanks doctor. I know how important hand hygiene is in preventing the spread of infections.”
We’ve heard from numerous patient advocates who have been affected by HAIs tell us that they wish they’d known what to do or say to prevent HAIs. This is one significant prevention step. So please know that you have the right to speak up if you see healthcare providers not practicing hand hygiene as they should.
Do you feel comfortable asking clinicians to wash up? Clinicians, how do you feel when a patient asks you to clean your hands?