Hey Doc, Did You Wash Your Hands?

Incredibly, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are not washing their hands enough at work.

Several studies across Canada have found that medical professionals are not meeting the requirements of hand-washing protocols at our hospitals, clinics, offices and personal-care homes. Studies in the US and Switzerland have found similar results. (http://www NULL.dailymail NULL.co NULL.uk/health/article-2830947/Hospital-patients-likely-doctors-nurses-clean-hands-appointment-morning NULL.html) Research has been undertaken to determine how to best convince doctors to wash their hands (http://well NULL.blogs NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2011/09/01/getting-doctors-to-wash-their-hands/). Patients are being encouraged to ask their doctors “Have you washed your hands? (http://www NULL.wsj NULL.com/articles/SB10001424052702303918804579107202360565642)

The implications are staggering, given the opportunity to transfer bacteria from one patient to another. One study found that 1 in 16 people who visit a hospital for treatment contract an infection while there.

This is one of the examples I use in my Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) seminars to show the difference between attitude/awareness and performing a behaviour.

  1. There is no doubt that doctors, nurses and other health professionals are aware of the importance of handwashing to reduce the spread of infectious disease. These highly-trained professionals study for many years in order to graduate, and then are taught proper hygiene in the workplace as residents.
  2. These professionals no doubt have the attitude that it is important to practice proper hygiene. After all, they have chosen a career to make people healthy, not sick.
  3. Nonetheless, it is clear that the awareness and the attitude these professionals possess does not always translate into the desired behaviour.

There is an opportunity here for a CBSM approach to increasing compliance with hand-washing protocols. In fact, the approach of encouraging patients to ask their doctors “Did you wash your hands” is a fine example of a CBSM prompt and of establishing a social norm.

Have any ideas on CBSM techniques you would use to get medical professionals to wash their hands more often? Post them in the comments block below.