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Getting doctors to wash their hands

The New York Times, September 2, 2011

A new study has a message for doctors and nurses who fail to wash their hands: Don't think about yourself. Think about your patients. Getting healthcare professionals to comply with notices to wash their hands before and after dealing with patients has been something of a thorn in the side of many hospitals. Although this simple measure limits the spread of sickness -- and could potentially reduce the nation's hospital healthcare bill by billions of dollars -- many doctors and nurses simply ignore it. Compliance rates for hand washing in American hospitals are only around 40%, and years of awareness programs urging doctors to wash up or use disinfectant gels have had little effect. Part of the problem, according to a forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science, are the actual signs posted in hospital washrooms urging health care workers to wash up. Changing the message from "Wash Your Hands to Protect Yourself" to "Wash Your Hands to Protect Your Patients," the study found, could motivate some doctors and nurses to wash their hands more frequently.