Saturday, April 8, 2006

Thank you, 95%

Community General Hospital has seen an increase in the percentage of hospital people (that includes doctors and employees) who comply with proper hand hygiene. In the first three months this year, we are averaging 95% compliance, compared with a 90% average in the past two years.

Three weeks ago I quoted a newspaper obituary for David Williamson Milne, a man who died in Kingston, Ontario on October 30, 2005. “The surgery was successful,” read the obituary.

Dave’s recovery was preceding well, thanks to the care of the [hospital] staff. Unfortunately, a series of hospital-acquired infections set back his progress and ultimately caused his premature passing.[1]

According to the Hand Hygiene Resource Center, “two million people become ill each year as a result of a hospital-acquired infection,” at a cost of some $4.5 billion. This week the Wall Street Journal reported “the rising alarm” that 90,000 hospitals deaths occur each year from these infections.[2] That translates to about 250 patient deaths each day! To put that number in perspective, last year CGH had an average daily census of 192 patients.

A review of 34 studies shows that “hand washing adherence among health care workers…varied from 5% to 81%” – with the average “only 40%.” Yesterday Sue Chamberlain, CGH’s Infection Control Program Director, told me there is a 1999 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that shows an average 54% of health care workers wash their hands as required. From this I conclude that the average hospital’s compliance is in the 40-50% range.

“‘It is no longer tolerable to accept noncompliance rates of more than 50% when we are dealing with critically ill patients,’” according to Dr. Don Goldman of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) who was quoted in the Journal article. Dr. Goldman noted that computer-chip makers have better hand-cleaning performance than some hospitals.

At CGH nothing we do is more important than keeping safe the patients entrusted to our care. So I thank you for the increased vigilance that has boosted our hand hygiene compliance to 95%. We are at the very top of nationwide performance, ]something we should be proud of – and something very important for patients.

I do have a nagging question about the remaining 5%. Who would fail to wash hands and raise the risk of a potentially life-threatening infection for a patient in the next room, a colleague in the cafeteria …or for that matter, a loved one at home?

[1] “A Tipping Point,” CGH Family Letter, March 18, 2006.
[2] “Hospitals Get Aggressive About Hand Washing,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2006

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