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Hand Hygiene: What Can You Do as a Patient?

Hand Hygiene: What Can You Do as a Patient?

Hand hygiene is important for maintaining good health and is the easiest and most effective way to prevent the spread of infection. That said, speaking up about hand hygiene to your healthcare providers can be challenging.

Patients should feel encouraged to ask their healthcare providers to use hand hygiene. Understandably, it’s not always easy to ask a healthcare provider to adjust his or her practice.  Organizations hold staff to a high standard of performing hand hygiene before and after patient contact, and as a patient, ask for your help in holding providers accountable.  Hand hygiene isn’t just hand washing; it also includes using the hand sanitizer pumps that are located conveniently around the hospital. 

Patients can also practice their own form of hand hygiene when visiting a hospital or clinic. It’s surprising how many times your nose itches or you feel the need to rub your eyes.  For a few minutes, take note of how many times you touch your face. With each touch you could be exposing your body to a new pathogen, so please be diligent in performing your own personal hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of infection.

To help you feel confident to speak up when you see the improper practice of hand hygiene, read the patient story below from a friend:

“I cut my hand and ended up needing stitches. I went to the nearest emergency room and I sat there watching hospital staff enter and exit exam rooms without performing any hand hygiene. The physician came in to examine the damage, and through small talk, I told him I noticed that he still hadn’t washed his hands.  With my pulse racing and flushed cheeks, I asked him if he would mind washing his hands with soap and water before cleaning my wound.  I was shocked at how much courage it took for me to ask him to do something so simple. The physician was happy to wash his hands, and I felt he was maybe a little embarrassed that I had called him out. We continued chatting as he sewed up my hand and I found out that we had some mutual family friends.“

Healthcare providers are often busy throughout the day, moving from room to room to visit with patients, and you may not see if they disinfect their hands outside of the room. But they understand the effects hand hygiene can have in preventing infection, and are happy to comply and make their patients feel comfortable. Never be afraid to speak up and have a conversation with your provider. Feel free to watch this powerful video “It’s OK to Ask” about patients speaking up. 

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