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4 proven ways to increase handwashing

Everyone knows handwashing reduces the transmission of illness. Why then is it so difficult to get staff to comply?

Experts recommend four strategies to promote handwashing.

1. Make handwashing part of your practice’s culture.
2. Make handwashing part of employee performance evaluation.
3. Make handwashing convenient.
4. Make handwashing pleasant.

The importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of illness between patients, and in protecting the health of staff, is well-documented. Handwashing is as much a health concern in medical offices as it is in hospitals, but it can be hard to get an audience on the subject in any area.

Build a handwashing culture

Failure to wash hands is a behavior problem. Getting staff to wash hands means getting them to change their behavior. You can put up all the signs you want but after three days no one sees them.

Solution: Make handwashing a way of life in your practice. Let staff know it is expected of them. Keep selling the idea to everyone including doctors, medical staff and clerical staff. Make it the thing to do. Because your medical practice is a small environment, it can make a culture change more easily than a hospital.

Handwashing is not optional

Along with all other forms of persuasion and inducement, make it clear to your staff that regular and appropriate handwashing is a requirement of their jobs.

Solution: Make handwashing a part of the regular performance review. Note improvements and lapses and discuss them with the staff member.

Bring the sink to the staffer

Inconvenience is another reason for poor handwashing behavior. If the sinks are down the hall, it is difficult for staff to take the time to walk there and wash their hands between patients.

Solution: Set out waterless cleaning agents in convenient locations including every exam room. Be aware however of the need for using soap and water frequently as well

Make it nicer

Perhaps the greatest detriment is the soap itself. Anything strong enough to kill micro-organisms is harsh and dries the skin. If the soap hurts and the towels feel like concrete, people will avoid using either one.

Solution: Save the antiseptic soap for clinical handwashing and use a mild soap containing lotion for ordinary clean-up. Keep moisturizer at handwashing stations. Supply towels with a comfortable texture as well.

In general, clinical staff should use antiseptic soap when they handle body fluids, when they assist at surgery and when they perform procedure assists between body sites such as inserting a catheter and then using a tongue depressor.

Clerical staff should wash their hands when they handle specimens or body fluids, when they have contact with patients and before eating. All staff should wash their hands before and after using the lavatory because they can transmit infections to themselves while using the lavatory as well as to others after using it.

Tip: A waterless hand cleanser station should be the first stop for your patients as they enter your office and the last stop on the way out.

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