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Despite Risk of Germs, Hospitals Struggle to Get Staff to Wash Hands

One of the primary known factors of hospital related injury involves germs and bacteria. Healthy individuals have been known to enter the hospital only to be kept days, weeks or months to treat an infection they caught while under hospital care. Despite the known risks of infection in hospitals, a new study suggests that hospitals struggle to get staff to wash hands.

Studies have shown that without support and pressure from management, hospital workers may wash their hands less than 30 percent of the time, even when interacting with multiple patients.

At a hospital in Long Island, New York staff workers are tracked by motion sensors and video cameras where they are observed to see if doctors and nurses are washing their hands. While the measures can seem extreme, hand-washing remains the most important way to prevent hospital infection. Our Fort Lauderdale injury attorneys are experienced in cases involving hospital negligence and injury, including those involving infection.

Like the systematic efforts made in Long Island hospital, hospitals throughout the nation have made hand-hygiene a priority. According to a recent report published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug resistant superbugs are on the rise and hospital-acquired infections cost nearly $30 billion per year.

In addition to the costs, patients are at extreme risk when exposed to infection. Every year, there are nearly 100,000 patient deaths involving infection. The high-stakes risk of infection has made hospitals willing to take extreme measures to ensure that doctors, nurses and staff are washing their hands to reduce the possibility of infection.

In addition to monitoring workers by surveillance cameras, other hospitals nationwide have hired trained coaches, created incentive programs, and punished workers with “red cards.” Some hospitals have ID chips that note when a doctor passed a sink without washing hands. Other monitors track whether workers are completing the required 15-second wash.

New federal regulations may also create an incentive to prevent infection. According to the new rules, hospitals can lose Medicare money if a patient acquires a preventable infection while under hospital care.

One of the reasons that hand-washing is so problematic may be related to the hospital culture itself. Under extreme pressures, with limited staff and a shortage of time, many workers are forced to cut corners. Doctors, who are the most resistant to hospital authorities, tend to perform the worst when it comes to following hand-washing guidelines.

Other theories suggest that hospital workers are on overload, having to memorize hundreds of complex procedures. When under cognitive pressure, many of these workers forget the simplest steps—like washing their hands.

Research suggests that high-tech hand-washing surveillance can improve results. When workers were not told of the surveillance, they only washed their hands less than 10 percent of the time. With knowledge of the reports on their own behavior (caught on film), the rate of washing rose to 88%.

While there may be some expense to these systems, hospitals could benefit financially by reducing costs of injury and treatment and ensuring that they continue to receive Medicare benefits. Victims of hospital injury, including infection, are also entitled to pursue compensation through a personal injury claim.

If you or a loved one has suffered a hospital infection, contact Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez, LLC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1-800-561-7777.

More Blog Entries:
Abuse and Neglect a Concern at Fort-Profit Nursing Homes in Fort Lauderdale, Elsewhere, South Florida Injury Lawyers Blog, August 28, 2011.

South Florida Hospital Infections, A Growing Concern, South Florida Injury Lawyers Blog, May 18, 2013

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