Doctor, Doctor, Wash Your Hands! — please.

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How to Be Sure Your Doctor’s Hands Are Clean

The very thought of asking a doctor or nurse to “wash up” would give some people hives — the gall!– but by now, we all know that unwashed hands, especially in a hospital or other medical setting, can spread very dangerous infections. In an attempt to make this less difficult for people who feel uneasy at the thought of making such a request, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made a video you can see online that shows a way to do this comfortably — and effectively.

The five-minute video urges hospitalized patients to make sure that everyone who touches them — including doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals — cleans hands first, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. As the video says, health-care providers know they should do this — but as you’ve undoubtedly seen with your own eyes, sometimes they don’t. In fact, studies suggest that although 90% of health-care providers say they wash their hands before patient contact, about half the time they don’t.

These lapses literally cost lives. Here in the US, hospital patients get about 1.7 million infections annually while being treated for something else… and hospital-acquired infections are responsible for nearly 100,000 deaths each year.

So how do you make this awkward request? The video shows an encounter that unfolds like this:

“Doctor, I’m embarrassed to even ask you this, but would you mind cleansing your hands before you begin?”

“Oh, I washed them right before I came in the room,” the doctor replies.

“If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to do it again in front of me.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Thanks, doctor. I know how important hand hygiene is in preventing the spread of infections.”

It Works!

While your conversations won’t go exactly the same, this basic strategy does work. In one study of 17 hospitals, researchers found that after watching the video, twice as many patients said they would be willing to ask their doctors or nurses to wash their hands. Doctors and nurses reported being much more likely to be reminded to wash after the video was widely shown throughout the hospital… and even more reassuring, they reported being more comfortable with being asked to wash their hands. In other words, the video broke through an unwritten taboo about the caregiver-patient relationship. According to John Jernigan, MD, chief of the interventions and evaluation section of health-care quality promotion at the CDC, “Improving patient care is a team effort, and we’re trying to find ways to include patients as part of that team.” Now, it’s time to always make sure that your doctors are on your team.

To watch the video online, go to

Source(s):  John Jernigan, MD, chief of the interventions and evaluation section of health-care quality promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, assistant professor of medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, and lieutenant commander, United States Public Health Service Commission Corps.

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