29HANDWASHING1-articleLarge courtesy of Hiroko Masuike NYT

Courtesy of Hiroko Masuike, New York Times

As a pregnant woman, unless you’re going to have a home birth, you will inevitably end up in a hospital to have your baby. As such, everything that happens in a hospital affects you even if you’ll only be there overnight. A recent article in the New York Times by Aremona Hartocollis about hospital hand washing caught my immediate attention.

As medical students, we were taught to wash our hands before we exam patients, a habit that has remained with me for the duration of my clinical career. Unfortunately, it’s not practiced by all hospital workers, especially physicians. This lack of hygiene has unfortunately contributed to antibiotic resistant bacteria that can wreck havoc regarding patient safety. Methicillin-Resistant-Staph-Aureus (also known as MRSA or the “flesh-eating bacteria”) has caused patients to enter a hospital with all of their limbs and leave with none.  Hospital-acquired infections cost $30 billion a year and cause the death of almost 100,000 patients each year. Medicare has said “enough!” and will fine hospitals if patients develop these infections. Enter “Big Brother.”

Someone in India, through motion sensors and video cameras, is spying on hospital workers here in the U.S. to determine whether they have washed their hands.  In methods that are similar to those used in the meat industry where cameras track whether the workers have washed their hands after removing skin from animals, hospitals have now joined in and the methods appear to work. Before the introduction of cameras and Blue-tooth, the compliance rate of hand washing was less than 10 percent according to the article. As a result of technology, the compliance rate jumped to 88 percent. Perhaps the old adage “people won’t do the right thing unless someone is looking” holds true.

Should you ask a hospital worker or your healthcare provider to wash their hands before taking care you? Absolutely, but isn’t it sad that we have to take such drastic measures?

Please share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.