NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Hospitals Take Drastic Steps to Improve Sanitation

June 3, 2013

U.S. hospitals have recently been cracking down on a very serious issue: washing hands. Studies have shown that without encouragement, hospital workers wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time that they interact with patients. Hospitals across the country are training hand-washing coaches, handing out rewards like free pizza and coffee coupons, and admonishing with "red cards," says the New York Times.

With drug-resistant superbugs on the rise, and with hospital-acquired infections costing $30 billion and leading to nearly 100,000 patient deaths a year, hospitals are willing to try almost anything to reduce the risk of transmission.

At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are washing their hands.

  • In addition to the video snooping, they are using radio-frequency ID chips that note when a doctor has passed by a sink, and undercover monitors, who blend in with the other white coats to watch whether their colleagues are washing their hands for the requisite 15 seconds.
  • North Shore's study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that during a 16-week preliminary period when workers were being filmed but were not informed of the results, hand-hygiene rates were less than 10 percent.
  • When workers started getting reports on their filmed behavior through electronic scoreboards and e-mails, the rates rose to 88 percent.
  • The hospital kept the system, but because of the expense, it has limited it to the intensive care unit, where the payoff is greatest because the patients are sickest.

The Greater New York Hospital Association, a trade group, and the health care workers union, 1199 S.E.I.U., train employees to be "infection coaches" for other employees. Hospital workers hand red cards to colleagues who do not wash. Doctors, nurses and others who consistently refuse to wash their hands may be forced to take a four-hour remedial infection prevention course, but to turn that into something positive, they are then asked to teach infection prevention to others. These measures are being taken by numerous hospitals across the United States, and are beginning to help decrease the risk of cross-infection from doctors to patients.

Source: Anemona Hartocollis, "With Money at Risk, Hospitals Push Staff to Wash Hands," New York Times, May 28, 2013.


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