About Those Hospital-Acquqired Infections…

by Joanna Smith on Jun 30, 2010

There has much talk of late about the risk of acquiring an infection while you are a patient in the hospital, so-called “nosocomial” infections or “hospital-acquired infections”.  These are differentiated from those acquired outside the hospital:  these are known as “community-acquired infections”.

Over the more recent years, major attempts at educating healthcare providers in the hospital on how to reduce the risk of contributing to a “hospital-acquired” infection have been made.  One of the simple preventive actions a healthcare provider can take is to wash his/her hands upon entering a patient’s room, and this is where the focus of the education has been.  Interestingly enough, according to recent news releases, these efforts have not significantly reduced the infection rates in hospitals.

Currently a new attempt is being made to encourage patients to be active participants in a “have you washed your hands?” program:   they would be the ones to ask their care providers in the hospital if they had washed their hands before coming in the room. It’s being cast as a way for patients to be active participants in their healthcare.

This strikes me as a curious shift in responsibility.  To ask a patient or family to be the one to ask a team of doctors or the nurse or the lab technician “did you wash your hands–and for how long–before you came in?”   ignores the fact that most patients and families are quite intimidated by hospitals, doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel. Ultimately, we have to be realistic about who is responsible for hand-washing:    it’s the medical professionals and the hospital staff.    This is simply not a situation where the concept of “equal partners in healthcare” is appropriate.