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Vanderbilt University Institutes Simple Hand-washing Policy That Saves Lives

Doctors at Vanderbilt University take handwashing very seriously, and their dedication to this simple practice has cut infections for patients and built an overall culture of safety at the hospital.  It all started when Dr. Gerald Hickson, a doctor at Vanderbilt, witnessed his wife’s post-operative care at the hospital after she underwent a double knee replacement surgery.  In total, Dr. Hickson counted a total of 92 times where nurses, doctors and other medical professionals failed to wash their hands upon entering the room to attend to his wife.  Some hospital staff were indignant at Dr. Hickson’s mention of their failure to perform this most basic of tasks, while others thanked him.  Despite initial reactions, Dr. Hickson’s day at the hospital resulted in the current handwashing policy at Vanderbilt University.

Dirty Hands at Hospital Linked to MRSA and Pneumonia 

Handwashing at the hospital is crucial because of the risk of infection, particularly for those recovering from surgery or serious illness.  Two of the most common and dangerous infections at hospitals are MRSA and Pneumonia, but washing hands is one of the single most important methods of preventing them.  In fact, 1 in 25 patients will battle one of these infections after staying at the hospital.  Furthermore, in 2011 approximately 722,000 people were affected by a hospital-acquired infection and about 75,000 patients died.  Unfortunately, previous studies have shown that hospital workers wash their hands only about 40-50% of the time.

Handwashing Rates Jump to Almost 100% at Vanderbilt University Hospital 

After witnessing the lack of handwashing at the hospital, Dr. Hickson decided to report his findings to the chief epidemiologist at the hospital.  Hospital workers were largely unaware of Dr. Hickson’s role as both a doctor at the hospital and the senior vice president for Quality, Safety and Risk Prevention at the hospital the day that he visited his wife in after-care.  However, he wasn’t going to let the problem of lack of handwashing go untouched.  With the help of the chief epidemiologist, the hospital launched an aggressive handwashing program in July 2009.  Since that time, handwashing rates jumped from 58% to 97% and the number of several stubborn infections has also dropped, some by as much as 80%.  Dr. Hickson calls handwashing the “key to transforming healthcare”.  You can read more about the specifics of the handwashing program at Vanderbilt University Hospital here.

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