JCAHO Update for Infection Control

'Smart Patient' book demands hand hygiene

From authors of You: The Owner's Manual

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is listed as a co-authoring agency on a recently published book that urges patients to demand that health care workers wash their hands.1

Written in a common, often comical way, the book's messages to patients with regard to hand hygiene and infection control are excerpted as follows:

Wash Your Hands! This order goes to every single person who may come in contact with you. They need to scrub their paws before touching you — before touching your sheets or your water cup or your side table or anything else that you could conceivably touch. If they're conscientious enough to put on new rubber gloves, as well, that would be marvelous. But hand washing is mandatory. This is not a joke. They should wash their hands after they touch you and before they head to the next patient.

It's understandable that harried nurses and doctors occasionally forget to do this, but it's not acceptable. No hospital should have a room without a sink or an alcohol hand-gel dispenser. No clinic or doctor's office, either. Posting a sign in your room that says, "THANKS VERY MUCH FOR WASHING YOUR HANDS," can help. This goes for all visitors, and for you, too.

If you're able to get up, wash your hands with soap and water several times a day (especially after you hug or shake hands with a visitor). Don't just do a three-second rinse; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you need to wash vigorously for at least fifteen seconds with soap and warm water (about the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday," the alphabet song, or "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner") hitting your palms, the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. You could alternatively use an alcohol sanitizing gel, which obviously is easier if you're not mobile.

The importance of hand washing to prevent infection is such a big deal that the Joint Commission came up with buttons for nurses, doctors, and other health care staff to wear that read: ASK ME IF I'VE WASHED MY HANDS. So, if you see those on your health care givers' lab coats (or even if you don't), ask away. Don't be shy about it.


1. Roizen MF, Oz MC, with the Joint Commission and Joint Commission Resources. You: The Smart Patient. New York City: Free Press; 2006.