Hand Washing in the Healthcare Setting

Hand washing in the health care setting, by Dr. Evelyn Okunoghae, APRN, DNP, FNP-C

Hand washing is an active, conscious effort in reducing the spread of infection and germs. Hand washing should be a personal engagement every healthcare provider or personnel should take seriously. It is one thing to preach and expect patients and family members to follow through with simple, specific instructions of hand washing in minimizing the spread of germs, it’s another thing as health care providers to be pioneers to those they care for. Many a times, I have seen health care providers ignore this very simple, effective act of minimizing germs when they engage in patient care, or navigate care from one patient to another without hand washing, or even protecting themselves when they take a break to eat without consciously engaging in hand washing prior to eating. Time may be perceived as one of the limitations that prevent health care providers in managing this simple gesture. Oftentimes, health care providers have a lot on their plate to manage at any point in time such as direct patient care, attending to family members, or engaging in any professional liaison that hand washing may invariably be a seemingly time consuming effort. Hand washing takes only 20 seconds, or humming the “happy birthday song” from beginning to the end twice (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). As health care providers (including other allied health care providers), we owe it to ourselves and the patients whom we care for, to engage in hand washing at all times. When it is not particularly feasible, using alcohol based hand sanitizer, containing at least 60% of alcohol (CDC, 2013) should be used. Hand sanitizer although effective, may not eliminate all types of germs (CDC, 2013). When the hands are heavily soiled, hand sanitizer will not be very effective, in such an instance; the health care personnel should make a conscious decision and effort to actively engage in hand washing. While the general population may be excused at the very least, and not held at a higher level of accountability, health care providers are particularly required with a greater standard, and responsibility in ensuring they actively employ in hand washing, and be exemplary models of what they stand for and preach to others. Let’s be the pioneers of what we believe in and preach. Actively engage in hand washing at all times, in order to protect yourself and others and to show you believe in what you teach.

As a reminder, according to the CDC (2013), when should one wash his or her hands?

Before, during, and after preparing food

Before eating food

Before and after caring for someone who is sick

Before and after treating a cut or wound

After using the toilet

After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

After handling pet food or pet treats

After touching garbage.

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