Hands up! Patients speak up about what they need for effective hand hygiene

The Infection Control Team at Providence Care always talks about hand hygiene with patients. It is their job to increase awareness and prevention of drug-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases in the hospital. But while they have these conversations on a regular basis, for some patients – washing their hands is not as easy as it is for others.

“I was talking to a new patient who was being admitted with Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci (VRE), and who used a wheelchair,” says Jim Gauthier, Infection Contorl Practitioner (ICP). “Patients who use wheelchairs are touching the wheels or other parts of the chair frequently throughout the day, and their hands are often visibly soiled and need regular washing.” Jim said he talked to the patient about how important it would be for him to clean his hands before meals, after touching his face and when entering or exiting his room.

“He was shocked that this was the first time anyone had talked to him about hand hygiene. He’d been using a wheelchair for a long time before coming to Providence Care, and the importance of clean hands had never come up before.”

Shortly afterwards, the Providence Care ICP team received a letter from a different patient who had recently left the hospital. This patient, who also had VRE when she came to Providence Care, offered advice on how health-care staff can strengthen their efforts to promote hand hygiene by engaging patients in the campaign.

“She suggested putting hand cleaner within reach of meal trays, and hand wipes on the meal tray for easy access,” says Ann McFeeters, ICP.  “Because some patients arrive at Providence Care from another hospital after surgery or stays in the ICU and are in pain, she said ICPs should connect with them again and discuss hand hygiene when the ‘brain fog’ has cleared. She was telling us ways we can help patients be more involved in infection control – which is our goal.”

Inspired by these patient interactions, the ICP team implemented new strategies to make sure patients are as empowered to support hand hygiene as hospital staff. ICPs and nursing staff speak with each newly admitted inpatient about the importance of hand hygiene, and to understand the patient’s specific needs and physical and cognitive ability to wash his or her own hands. The team put together a brochure for patients and visitors on hand hygiene and a second pamphlet for those patients using wheelchairs. For those patients who need help with hand hygiene – a “hand hygiene logo” is place above their bed, to remind staff to provide assistance.

“Sometimes we forget it is not easy for a patient to keep their hands clean in our environment”, says Kathleen Poole, ICP. “We need to make sure their hands are clean too!”