THE BLOG
10/22/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

Physicians on the Front Lines: Where Technology Can Help to Make the Clean Hand the Winning Hand

Whether in a personal or professional setting, very few of us find ourselves wanting to be apart from our smart phones. They keep us connected to just about everything these days.

In healthcare, electronic devices are permeating both the hospital and consumer/patient settings with everything from electronic health records to wearable devices and countless apps for monitoring everything from diabetes to calorie intake and physical activity.

As a physician, technology geek and mother, I find it perplexing that one area of healthcare that has not yet been penetrated by electronic devices is hand hygiene. Especially today, when it seems every few months a new virus is being combatted such as the enterovirus, currently spreading in schools. Not to mention the recent Ebola virus threat.

The stats are clear and unquestioned when it comes to the current issue of hospital acquired infections: In the U.S. alone,
• In the U.S. alone, 1 in 20 patients get an infection,
• resulting in 1.7 million infections per year and,
• causing 99,000 deaths at a cost of $45 billion dollars.

This alarming fact, which is one of many, is primarily the reason why hand hygiene has recently become a much discussed topic

It's my call to action to everyone - whether you are a healthcare professional, a patient or supporting family member or friend - know how to protect yourself in a hospital setting. And remind professionals taking care of your or a loved one to wash their hands if they haven't done so.

A healthcare-associated infection contracted during care is the last thing any hospital patient expects or needs. Care providers know the feeling as well; infections that are typically easily preventable, can cause major problems and put patients in harm's way. These infections can spread rapidly and are often resistant to treatment.

No physician, ever wants to cause a patient harm - it's in the Hippocratic Oath. But oftentimes, chaotic and demanding schedules can limit docs and other healthcare personnel from doing the absolute best to protect patients. The single most effective way to prevent the spread of infection is proper hand hygiene, and it's critical that physicians, nurses and other healthcare personnel lead the way towards improving compliance for safe and healthy care delivery. While we work tirelessly to save patient lives, healthcare staff can increase hand hygiene compliance across the board.

In recognition of International Infection Prevention Week (IIPW), let's acknowledge that evidence-based recommendations of hand hygiene adherence must be adopted and endorsed by all physicians and providers. The World Health Organization (WHO) stipulates that the following five moments must be adhered to in the clinical setting:

• Before patient contact
• Before a clean or aseptic procedure
• After patient contact
• After contact which the patient environment
• After contact with body fluids or spore-forming bacteria

The old method of hand washing when going in and out of a patient room no longer suffices. Evidence says so.

Unfortunately, in certain care situations, what's ideal for care may be impractical; what's beneficial may be unrealistic. Consider an ER doc or nurse who is called on to immediately treat an endangered critical patient.

In the current context of care, having healthcare staff with not only knowledge of hand hygiene protocols, but ready access in all locations to hand hygiene products and availability of the technology that encourages proper hand hygiene is the trifecta.

Physicians and healthcare professionals across the board want to save lives. But the reality when it comes to hand hygiene is that no matter the setting--many times there are competing priorities or critical care on the line, and mistakes do happen. But since about 88 percent of all infections are transmitted by hands, a review of the WHO's Five Moments for Hand Hygiene is imperative. Most importantly, in the home, in schools and most importantly - in hospitals and doctor's offices - let's make time to clean our hands this week!