NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Cameras Are Watching, More Doctors Wash Up

December 6, 2011

A new study found that more doctors and nurses washed their hands when video cameras were installed in every room in their unit and the staff was continuously informed about rates of hand-washing compliance, says Reuters.

  • Dr. Bruce Farber and his colleagues conducted the new study in their intensive care unit between 2008 and 2010.
  • They installed $50,000 worth of cameras in hallways and patient rooms -- pointing at every sink and hand sanitizer dispenser -- as well as motion sensors in all doorways.
  • Off-site reviewers monitored those videos and checked whether any doctor or nurse who came through a patient's door washed their hands within 10 seconds, and if they did the same on the way out.
  • Doing that earned workers a "pass," while waiting too long to wash up or not doing it at all counted as a "fail."
  • Then, the system sent compliance rates by room to electronic boards in the ward's hallways and to supervisors, so all staff could see how well they were doing as a unit.

Before health workers started getting that constant feedback, less than 7 percent of them washed their hands immediately when entering or before leaving a patient's room, according to video records.

That shot up to 82 percent in the weeks after the hallway messages started, and reached an average high of 88 percent over the next year and half of monitoring.

The researchers acknowledged in their report published in Clinical Infectious Diseases that the monitoring didn't take into account the quality of hand washing, and Farber said the criteria for adequate hand hygiene were "very strict and very difficult to adhere to."

Source: Genevra Pittman, "When Cameras Are Watching, More Doctors Wash Up," Reuters, November 30, 2011.  Donna Armellino et al., "Big Brother is Washing...Video Surveillance for Hand Hygiene Adherence, Through the Lenses of Efficacy and Privacy," Clinical Infectious Diseases, November 21, 2011.

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