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When training hospital staff, it’s easy to overlook one of the most fundamental disease prevention practices due to its simplicity. While most Americans begin learning to wash their own hands as toddlers, as adults in the health care industry, they must pay special attention to this safety precaution in an effort to protect their patients. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that on any given day, 1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one hospital-acquired infection (HAI).

Hand washing, and lack thereof, has been identified by the World Healthcare Organization (WHO) as a leading contributor to HAI’s. In an effort to reduce the spread of germs, WHO established the “Five Key Moments of Hand Hygiene” for hospital staff.

  1. Before Patient Contact: Clean your hands before touching a patient when approaching him or her to protect the patient against harmful germs carried on your hands.
  2. Before An Aseptic Task: Clean your hands immediately before any aseptic task to protect the patient against harmful germs, including the patient’s own germs, entering his or her body.
  3. After Body Fluid Exposure Risk: Clean your hands immediately after an exposure risk to body fluids (and after glove removal) to protect yourself and the health-care environment from harmful patient germs.
  4. After Patient Contact: Clean your hands after touching a patient and his or her immediate surroundings when leaving to protect yourself and the healthcare environment from harmful patient germs.
  5. After Contact With Patient Surroundings: Clean your hands after touching any object or furniture in the patient’s immediate surroundings, when leaving – even without touching the patient – to protect yourself and the healthcare environment from harmful patient germs.

While reviewing patient care protocols with hospital staff, it’s important to reiterate the five key moments of hand hygiene. The easiest way to encourage compliance is frequent reminders of expectations around hand washing frequency and duration. By reminding all hospital staff of best practices, everyone will know their role in the prevention of HAIs.

According to WHO, direct observation of hand hygiene practices is still considered the gold standard in ensuring protocol compliance. Consider assigning an observer to work directly with staff members to find their hand hygiene habits and celebrate hygiene champions for their dedication to preventing germs from spreading.

It only takes one non-compliant health care practitioner to facilitate the spread of disease from patient to patient, even if no direct contact has been made. Therefore, it’s up to everyone to follow the five key moments of hand hygiene to ensure a safe environment for both staff and patients.