Hand washing and physicians: how to get them together

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2002 Jan;23(1):32-5. doi: 10.1086/501965.


Objective: To determine the motivating and behavioral factors responsible for improving compliance with hand washing among physicians.

Design: Five unobtrusive, observational studies recording hand washing after direct patient contact, with study results reported to physicians.

Setting: A 450-bed hospital in a health maintenance organization with an 18-bed medical-surgical intensive care unit (ICU) and a 12-bed cardiac care unit.

Methods: An infectious disease physician met individually with participants to report study results and obtain a commitment to hand washing guidelines. Follow-up interviews were conducted to evaluate behavioral factors and educational programs. Hand washing study results were presented to all staff physicians by live and videotaped inservice presentations and electronic mail (e-mail) newsletters. The importance of influencing factors and the educational effectiveness of the hand washing program were evaluated.

Results: Five observational hand washing studies were conducted in the ICU between April 1999 and September 2000. Rates of physician compliance with hand washing were 19%, 85%, 76%, 74%, and 68%, respectively. There were 71 initial encounters and 55 follow-up interviews with the same physicians. Physician interviews revealed that 73% remembered the initial encounter, 70% remembered the hand washing inservice presentations, and 18% remembered the e-mail newsletters. Personal commitment and meeting with an infectious disease physician had the most influence on hand washing behavior. Direct inservice presentations (either live or videotaped) had more influence than did e-mail information. Rates of ventilator-associated pneumonia did not significantly change before and during the study periods. A decrease in the rate of central-line-related bloodstream infections from 3.2 to 1.4 per 1,000 central-line days was found, but could not be solely attributed to improved physician compliance with hand washing.

Conclusions: Physician compliance with hand washing can improve. Personal encounters, direct meetings with an infectious disease physician, and videotaped presentations had the greatest impact on physician compliance with hand washing at our medical center, compared with newsletters sent via e-mail. Local data on compliance with hand washing and physician involvement are factors to be considered for physician hand washing compliance programs in other medical centers.

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Guideline Adherence / trends
  • Hand Disinfection*
  • Inservice Training / methods
  • Nurses
  • Physicians*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic