Antibiotic resistance has become a public health crisis, and as the tools at a doctor’s disposal have grown, so have the chances for infection.

“Hand hygiene needs to be at the forefront of infection prevention,” says Connie Steed, Director of Infection Prevention for Greenville Health System in South Carolina. Health care worker hands are touching a larger number of surfaces which can be contaminated, increasing the risk of spreading infection.

Having accountability

Steed, also a registered nurse, asserts the importance of collaboration among staff. “When you see someone caring for a patient and there’s something they’ve forgotten to do, you need to remind them in a caring and professional way.”

Equally important is making sure patients are aware of infection risks and feel empowered to speak up. “We have a sign in every room that says it’s okay to ask health care workers to clean their hands,” says Steed. She also encourages staff to start the conversation with patients, citing the importance of a human connection.

'“When you see someone caring for a patient and there’s something they’ve forgotten to do, you need to remind them in a caring and professional way.”'

New advances

Some health care providers are combining new technology with the core elements of sterile technique to reduce hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). One company, DebMed, which also provides specially formulated soaps and sanitizers, has developed an electronic hand hygiene compliance system that provides continuous, reliable monitoring.

This system engages staff throughout the World Health Organization’s Five Moments for Hand Hygiene: before touching a patient or performing aseptic procedures, and after body fluid exposure, touching a patient or touching patient surroundings.

In a study published in AJIC 2016, Greenville Memorial Hospital was able, by using this system, to reduce HAIs by 42 percent, increase compliance by 25 percent and have cost savings of $434,000.

But this can’t happen without training and communication among staff and patients. “Part of a culture of safety is looking out for each other,” says Steed.