Hey, doc, wash your hands
Patients shouldn't be shy about asking providers to hit the sink, experts say
By JoNel Aleccia
updated 7:31 a.m. ET, Fri., Jan. 25, 2008
It’s a question no hospital patient should have to ask: “Hey, doc, did you wash your hands?”
But in an era of rising rates of drug-resistant infections and overburdened medical staffs, hygiene experts say
the best-protected patients are those willing to take safety into their own hands — by asking health workers
to wash theirs.
Doctors, nurses and other hospital staffer too busy, too distracted — or, sometimes, too arrogant — to wash
up are the target of a growing movement aimed at cutting rates of hospital-acquired infections that kill nearly
100,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to federal estimates.
“Most patients assume health-care workers clean their hands, and they’d be surprised,” said Dr. John Boyce,
director of the Hand Hygiene Resource Center at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven, Conn., and a co-
author of hygiene guidelines for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At best, hospital staffers wash adequately about half the time, repeated studies show. And some hospitals
post hand hygiene rates as low as 20 percent when they start tracking the problem, said Maryanne McGuckin,
a former University of Pennsylvania public health researcher who has spent her career trying to boost hand
hygiene in hospitals and other health-care settings.
“This isn’t magic. It’s very clear what you need to do,” McGuckin said.
In hundreds of hospitals across the country, patients are being urged to speak up when workers fail to scrub.
Posters in patient rooms, tray-top cards, brochures, buttons and direct invitations from staff all deliver the
same reminder: “It’s OK to ask.”
That's exactly what Dalynn Morales did. The 33-year-old cancer patient at Providence St. Vincent Medical
Center in Portland, Ore., noticed that a nurse failed to clean her hands before adjusting Morales’ antibiotic
“I said, ‘Could you please wash?’” Morales recalled, adding that the nurse quickly complied. “I’m not sure if