Consumers Union Urges Hospitals to Disclose Handwashing Compliance Rates

AUSTIN, Texas -- As Infection Prevention Week (October 14-20) begins across the country, Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is calling on hospitals nationwide to disclose their handwashing compliance rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers proper hand hygiene to be the single most important factor in protecting patients from hospital-acquired infections, which kill nearly 100,000 Americans every year. Yet many hospitals fail to ensure that healthcare workers follow proper hand hygiene practices on a consistent basis.

"Clean hands save lives," said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Stop Hospital Infections campaign ( "Unfortunately, most hospitals have a poor track record when it comes to making sure caregivers are protecting patients from infections by cleaning their hands properly."

Numerous studies have documented that hand hygiene compliance rates in most hospitals are unacceptably low -- usually below 50 percent. That means, on average, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are failing to clean their hands properly with more than half of their patients. A recent survey by the Leapfrog Group found that only 35.6 percent of all hospitals have proper hand hygiene policies recommended by the CDC in place. The Leapfrog Group did not assess whether the hospitals were following their policies.

Research shows that bacteria causing infections is often transmitted by the unwashed hands of healthcare workers who have touched a patient colonized with bacteria or a surface in the patient's environment that is contaminated. Caregivers who leave the bedside of a colonized patient without following proper hand hygiene can carry hundreds of thousands of units of bacteria on their hands. Even if caregivers wear gloves while caring for such patients, they sometimes contaminate their hands when removing gloves covered by bacteria.

According to the largest hospital-wide survey of healthcare workers conducted on this subject, compliance with proper hand hygiene practices was lowest in intensive care units and during procedures that carry a high risk of bacterial contamination. Other studies have found a connection between poor hand hygiene and understaffing or overcrowding at hospitals.

"Patients expect hospital caregivers to have clean hands, but this expectation is not always met," said McGiffert. "One way to restore patient confidence is for hospitals to come clean by disclosing their handwashing compliance rates. Almost every hospital in the country has conducted hand hygiene campaigns in the last few years and now it's time for them to show us the results."

Source: Consumers Union