If you don’t ask your health care professionals if they washed their
hands before examining you, you are not alone. A recent survey found that
only 21% of patients have asked about hand washing in the hospital, and
just 17% have asked at their doctor’s office.
However, that doesn’t mean it is not a good idea. Many of the patients
surveyed stated that they assumed health professionals always wash their
hands before treating any patient. However, according to the
CDC, the hand-washing rate in hospitals is only around 50%.
This is alarming given that hand hygiene is one of the most important ways
to prevent the spread of infections in health care settings. In fact,
the CDC estimates that poor hand hygiene is a leading contributor to the
estimated two million health care-associated infections. That’s
about 1 infection for every 20 patients. Infections contracted in hospitals
can be difficult to treat and even deadly.
With this in mind, we encourage patients to take a more active role regarding
good hand hygiene. For instance, it is a good idea to confirm that anyone
treating you has washed his or her hands:
- Before patient contact;
- After contact with blood, body fluids, or contaminated surfaces (even if
gloves are worn);
- Before invasive procedures; and
- After removing gloves (wearing gloves is not enough to prevent the transmission
of pathogens in healthcare settings).
While it may be uncomfortable, asking a simple question could protect you
from a serious infection.