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Campaign Aimed at Patient Health Ups Doc Hand Washing

Hospital health care staff increased their hand washing in response to signs reminding them that it helped patients, but not when signs urged them to wash for their own benefit. Christopher Intagliata reports

Handwashing is the best way to avoid spreading infection, according to the CDC. But doctors, nurses and hospital staff wash up less than half as often as they should. Some hospitals encourage handwashing by posting signs that tell docs a simple scrub will prevent them from getting sick. But a study finds a more effective reminder: clean hands helps patients. The research is in the journal Psychological Science. [Adam M. Grant and David A. Hofmann, "It’s Not All about Me: Motivating Hospital Hand Hygiene by Focusing on Patients"]

Investigators posted one of three signs at 66 soap and sanitizer dispensers in a US hospital. Either “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases,” “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases,” or a control sign that read “Gel in, wash out.” Then they measured how much soap and gel disappeared after two weeks. And they asked a few docs and nurses to spy on their colleagues’ handwashing habits.

Turns out hospital staff used 33 percent more soap and gel at dispensers with the message about patients. And the eyewitnesses found that staff was 10 percent more likely to lather up—especially nurses. A promising start. Though you can't blame patients for wishing docs and nurses washed their hands every time they should.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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