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Washing hands still a challenge in U.S. hospitals

Written by Ankin Law Office

Healthcare associated infections are a prominent problem in Chicago hospitals. These infections, which patients usually acquire while being treated at a hospital for an unrelated condition, can have truly devastating consequences for many individuals and may even cost them their lives. While the rates of HAIs are not likely to ever reach zero, many hospitals in the U.S. are being faced with an epidemic of infection, largely of their own creation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 25 hospital patients has one or more HAIs at any given time. In 2011, 722,000 cases of hospital acquired infections were reported in the U.S. alone, and 75,000 of those patients died during their hospital stay. What can be responsible for such high rates of infection among the nation’s patients? Researchers, doctors, and hospital administrators agree that a lack of proper hand sanitation by healthcare workers is the culprit.

Hand sanitation rates

A study in the American Journal of Medical Quality recently examined hand hygiene compliance rates among U.S. healthcare workers at hospitals in an effort to find a baseline statistic as well as to examine the effect feedback had on the rate. Researchers found that proper hand sanitation is practiced only 26 percent of the time in the nation’s intensive care units and has an occurrence rate of 36 percent for non-ICUs. However, when feedback is provided, the rate of compliance increases to 37 percent for ICUs and 51 percent for non-ICUs. Even when actively participating in a hand sanitation program, healthcare workers failed to bring hand sanitation rates past 50 percent compliance, making it one of the most prevalent forms of hospital negligence in the nation. The effect this has on the potential for hospital acquired infections is tremendous. 

Pitfalls to compliance

According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, many healthcare workers cite poor access to hand washing stations or equipment as a prime example of why compliance number are so low. Additional reasons may include a lack of time in emergency situations or avoidance due to skin irritants commonly found in soaps and hand sanitizers. However, the biggest hurdle may be simple education about the necessity of proper hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infection.  Most states also do not require hospitals to track and report hand hygiene compliance, so there is little incentive other than potential litigation for hospitals to take the time and funds necessary to do so.

Those who have acquired infections or endured other medical mistakes at a hospital may be able to seek compensation for their injuries. Affected patients should contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss their claim and begin the road to a full recovery.

Categories: Medical Malpractice