Like a long-running daytime drama in which promising advances abound, but satisfactory resolutions seem perpetually out of reach, getting hospital staff to wash their hands remains a vexing problem.
Even with awareness campaigns and advances like hand-sanitizing gel in patient rooms to make hand washing quick and instant, without reminders and encouragement, hospital staff washes their hands only 30% of the time.
Hospitals are investing in everything from data-collecting motion sensors to alarms and iPad apps to get hospital staff to comply with the most basic of healthcare quality and patient safety initiatives: Wash your hands. With soap and water. For 15 seconds.
An article last week in The New York Times describes many tactics to get staff to comply, from high-tech "Big Brother-" style monitoring to low-tech "prizes" of gold stars and pizza. The efforts are part of a desperate attempt by hospitals to counter the $30 billion dollars spent annually combating hospital acquired infections, attributed to this basic, neglected task.
With multiple superbugs spreading and Medicare reimbursements on the line, hospital leaders are highly motivated to get staff to wash up. Physicians are, surprisingly, the most likely to go without hand washing, perhaps in rebellion to these omnipresent rules and regulations.
Incentives, disincentives, and humiliation have all been tested and tried, but it seems to all boil down to an overwhelmed staff that can't handle an expanding workload.