Handwashing is widely accepted as being key to the prevention of hospital-acquired infection but the frequency of handwashing by healthcare workers has been found to be low. A systematic critical literature review was conducted to establish the effectiveness of interventions aimed at increasing compliance with handwashing in healthcare workers. The results showed that one-off educational interventions have a very short-term influence on handwashing behaviour. Use of strategically placed reminders, or asking patients to remind staff of the need to conduct handwashing can have a modest but more sustained effect. Feedback of performance can increase levels of handwashing but if feedback is not repeated regularly, then this effect is not maintained over long periods. Automated sinks increase the quality of handwashing but healthcare workers can be discouraged from using these because of the additional time involved. Provision of moisturized soaps appears to make little difference to handwashing behaviour but providing 'dry' hand rubs near patient beds may lead to a minimal increase in the frequency with which staff decontaminate their hands. Multifaceted approaches which combine education with written material, reminders and continued feedback of performance can have an important effect on handwashing compliance and rates of hospital-acquired infection.
Copyright 2001 The Hospital Infection Society.