Hand hygiene among physicians: performance, beliefs, and perceptions

Ann Intern Med. 2004 Jul 6;141(1):1-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-141-1-200407060-00008.


Background: Physician adherence to hand hygiene remains low in most hospitals.

Objectives: To identify risk factors for nonadherence and assess beliefs and perceptions associated with hand hygiene among physicians.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of physician practices, beliefs, and attitudes toward hand hygiene.

Setting: Large university hospital.

Participants: 163 physicians.

Measurements: Individual observation of physician hand hygiene practices during routine patient care with documentation of relevant risk factors; self-report questionnaire to measure beliefs and perceptions. Logistic regression identified variables independently associated with adherence.

Results: Adherence averaged 57% and varied markedly across medical specialties. In multivariate analysis, adherence was associated with the awareness of being observed, the belief of being a role model for other colleagues, a positive attitude toward hand hygiene after patient contact, and easy access to hand-rub solution. Conversely, high workload, activities associated with a high risk for cross-transmission, and certain technical medical specialties (surgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, and intensive care medicine) were risk factors for nonadherence.

Limitations: Direct observation of physicians may have influenced both adherence to hand hygiene and responses to the self-report questionnaire. Generalizability of study results requires additional testing in other health care settings and physician populations.

Conclusion: Physician adherence to hand hygiene is associated with work and system constraints, as well as knowledge and cognitive factors. At the individual level, strengthening a positive attitude toward hand hygiene and reinforcing the conviction that each individual can influence the group behavior may improve adherence among physicians. Physicians who work in technical specialties should also be targeted for improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hand Disinfection*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Specialization
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workload