CDC Study Says Hospital Staff Follow Senior Physicians' Lead in Handwashing Practices

ATLANTA -- A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that if physicians and surgeons don't wash their hands properly, residents under their supervision are less likely to wash as well. Overall, hospital staff members washed their hands about half of the time after contact with a patient; however, the influence of a senior physician was so great that if that if he or she did not wash while making rounds, the accompanying staff members washed only about 10 percent of the time.

The study was conducted by the CDC and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The Associated Press reported CDC epidemiologist Dr. William Trick as saying, "The findings underscore the need to educate hospital role models to wash their hands so that "students or technicians see it's an important part of patient care."

The study observed handwashing practices at the hospital's old and new facilities in 1998 and 1999. It found that better access to sinks -- more were installed in the new hospital -- did not always lead to better hygiene. Workers washed up more frequently at the old hospital (53 percent of the time) than at the new hospital (23 percent of the time).

"Making things more convenient is not the answer," said Elaine Larson, associate dean of research at Columbia University's school of nursing. "It's not going to really change people's behavior. You have to change the culture, make it so it's expected that everybody does it,' she added, as reported by the Associated Press.

An estimated 2 million infections occur in U.S. hospitals each year, causing about 90,000 patient deaths. Experts believe most hospital infections are from contact with healthcare workers.

"Hand hygiene is the single most effective way to prevent transmission of infections in hospitals," said Dr. Gary Noskin, director of infection control and prevention at the Chicago hospital.

But handwashing practices vary. Since the 1980s, healthcare workers wash their hands from only 5 percent of the time to 80 percent of the time.