My mother taught me how to do it. Yours probably did too. We all know how and when to clean our hands, don’t we? Well, it turns out this is not true, especially when we work in health care, where appropriate hand hygiene can literally be a matter of life and death for our patients, clients and residents. Knowing when and how to clean our hands and wear gloves, and actually doing it, is also an important part of protecting ourselves. Working in health care, we are inevitably exposed to some pretty nasty bugs as part of our daily work.

Every year, infections harm and even kill some of our patients. Many of these infections are acquired as a direct result of our care. Research tells us that the number one thing we can do to prevent infections is good hand hygiene. This applies to everyone. It’s not just the doctors, nurses, therapists and other professional staff providing hands on care. Everyone who works in health care has a responsibility to keep our patients safer. We too can help save lives. It’s literally in our hands, 200 per cent of the time.
We each need to take responsibility for our own actions…100 per cent of the time. Then we need to take responsibility for alerting others when they don’t follow good hand hygiene procedures…100 per cent of the time. That’s what we mean by 200 per cent.

It’s not about lecturing others. It’s simply pointing out that we all need to maintain good hand hygiene all the time. We want our patients, clients and residents to feel and be safe. That means cleaning our hands in front of our clients so they can see us doing it; it means changing gloves appropriately; and it means reminding our colleagues to do the same.

There are three vital behaviours that will help us reach this goal:

  1. wash in, wash out: ensuring we clean our hands before and after every patient, client and resident contact;
  2. 200 per cent accountability: being accountable to ourselves and for others;
  3. “thank you” and wash again: when someone asks us to wash our hands because they didn’t see us do it, we should say thank you for the reminder and wash our hands again.

We have been auditing whether staff, including physicians, use appropriate hand hygiene at five important points of contact: before and after they touch a patient, before and after doing a procedure or being exposed to body fluids, and after touching equipment or any surface that a patient may contact. In many clinical areas we have audited, our results are terrible. More than 50 percent of the time we are exposing patients and ourselves to serious infections. We need to do better.

We often hear staff say they are too busy to clean their hands before and after they put on gloves or clean their hands every time they are supposed to. This is not an acceptable excuse. We have a duty of care to do everything we can to keep our patients safe, even if it takes a few extra seconds to clean our hands and wear gloves.

Although hand hygiene is important everywhere we provide care, because of the high risk in hospitals, we will be putting special focus initially on auditing and improving hand hygiene practices in our hospital clinical units. Our goal is to regularly audit every unit (100 per cent) and to achieve 100 per cent compliance with good hand hygiene practice. We will publicly post our facility results on the Internet to be more open and transparent about our commitment to preventing infection and keeping our patients and staff safe. Unit specific results will be posted on each unit so that staff, patients and the public can see how well we are doing.

My mother taught me many things. Recently I learned that how she taught me how to clean my hands wasn’t what I need to do to protect myself and our patients, especially in an environment where “superbugs” can kill. You can see a short video of me learning to clean my hands the right way. Looks pretty simple, and it is. Now we all just need to do it, 200 per cent of the time.

Maura Davies
President and CEO
Saskatoon Health Region

See Maura Davies learn to properly clean her hands with hand gel at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ4capmP5Ro

Hear what one of our patients has to say about holding us accountable for
cleaning our hands:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlwcRmr8DTk