Despite Prodding, Patients Remain Reluctant to Ask Healthcare Workers About Handwashing

Even when they are explicitly encouraged to do so, many patients are reluctant to ask healthcare workersespecially doctorsif they have washed their hands before administering treatment, according to a pilot study published in the May 2012 issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

In the study, patients in an Australian hospital were given a brochure that gave them permission to ask their healthcare workers if they had washed their hands. Even with this encouragement, patients were willing to confront healthcare workers less than half the time. Patients responded that they would ask nurses to clean their hands only 67 percent of the time.

Patients were more reluctant to question doctors, asking them about their hand hygiene only 43 percent of the time. The French proverb that states a doctor is often more to be feared than the disease is relevant, because doctors consistently have the lowest [hand hygiene] compliance of all [healthcare workers], the studys authors write. However, patients fear questioning their doctors.