Hospital washes hands of infections

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A Cleveland hospital has reduced its incidence of bloodstream infections to one-third of what it used to be and the radical improvement has nothing to do with antibiotics. Instead, the Metrohealth Medical Center strictly enforces handwashing among its staff.

What the hospital has achieved is no small feat, considering that hospital infections are responsible for about 90,000 deaths in America and cost as much as $5.7 billion annually, according to a recent report by the Joint Commission and the World Health Organization. It has been frequently documented how often doctors move from one patient to the next without washing their hands an oversight that results in the rapid spread of infection in a medical environment. However, since January, the Metrohealth Medical Center has employed a small number of staff members who are responsible for reminding doctors, nurses, and other health workers to wash their hands; they use either soap and water or a common hand sanitizer. As a result, the compliance rate is an impressive 98 percent.

This is a simple practice that should always be enforced, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, noting that ACSH chairman Dr. Betsy McCaughey heads the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), whose mission is to educate health workers and the public about hygienic protocol in hospitals.

In the absence of new antibiotics to fight resistant bacteria, says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, handwashing is going to be one of the most important tools to prevent the spread of new dangerous pathogens. It s so much simpler than having to discover and develop a new drug that could take 10 years to be approved especially since most drug companies are no longer doing research in this area.