Can we talk? Physicians don’t wash up as often as other HCWs
The Joint Commission Update for Infection Control
By Ana Pujols McKee, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, The Joint Commission
Admittedly, this is a "touchy" topic for physicians, but I will dare to ask the question: why do some physicians resist adopting and adhering to practices that improve patient safety? I am not talking about complex interventions; I’m talking about hand hygiene, the relatively simple act of washing one’s hands. As health care organizations monitor hand hygiene compliance, they consistently identify physicians as trailing woefully behind other health care workers.
The evidence which supports how hand hygiene can significantly reduce the risk of acquiring a health care-associated infection has been well established for decades. Yet the same physicians who turn towards the evidence-based methods for their practice, ignore the compelling evidence demonstrating that hand hygiene reduces risk. In some ways, this is incomprehensible. Why would a physician not want to protect their patients from these nasty infections during a time when the patient is most vulnerable and trusting their care in our hands? That is, unwashed hands?
Another missed opportunity is compliance among physicians in using two patient identifiers, which also falls behind other health care workers. The simple task of using two patient identifiers significantly reduces the risk of giving the patient the wrong treatment, procedure or test. Yet once again, a fundamental concept of probability is routinely ignored by some.
In trying to make sense of this, I can only conclude that these behaviors reflect a sense among some physicians that these safe practices apply to others. If so, our colleagues can benefit from some "just in time" coaching. The next time you see a physician colleague ignore the safe practice of hand hygiene, I encourage you to kindly remind them that hand washing is a data-proven method of protecting patients from health care-acquired infections, and that patients expect their doctors to wash their hands. And if more needs to be said, pause, and then say, "Let’s talk over a cup of coffee, but first, let me wash my hands."
Let’s help our colleagues get on board.