A review of the evidence for suboptimal compliance of healthcare practitioners to standard/universal infection control precautions

J Clin Nurs. 2008 Jan;17(2):157-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2006.01852.x. Epub 2007 Mar 1.


Aims: The review examines from international research: the extent to which practitioners comply with infection control precautions; the pertinent issues that are considered influential in compliance; what strategies have been evaluated to instigate positive behaviour changes amongst practitioners and the effect of these interventions.

Background: Internationally, standard/universal precautions (UP) are regarded as fundamental in the prevention and control of infection, and effective in protecting practitioners and patients. However, adherence has been problematic and the practice of standard/UPs is globally suboptimal.

Design and methods: Literature review where relevant evidence was identified using several electronic databases, from 1994 to 2006, with number of key terms utilized. Data were extracted by using key headings, which facilitated analysis.

Results: Thirty-seven studies were appraised. Twenty-four related to measuring practitioner compliance and 13 studies that evaluated the effect of a research intervention on compliance. In addition, other studies were included which examined the specific reasons for suboptimal compliance, or discussed infection control precautions generally.

Conclusions: Compliance to infection control precautions is internationally suboptimal. The evidence confirms that compliance to specific aspects of standard/UPs varies, and practitioners are selective in their application of recommended practice. Compliance does improve following a structured intervention; however, research fails to indicate for how long the intervention affects practitioner compliance, or whether compliance after a period of time returns to the norm. Several reasons for non-compliance are discussed, and recommendations for future research are suggested. Relevance to clinical practice. Suboptimal compliance has significant implications for staff safety, patient protection and the care environment. Infection control teams and researchers need to consider the reasons for non-compliance and provide a supportive environment that is conducive to the routine, long-term application of standard precautions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / organization & administration
  • Guideline Adherence / organization & administration*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Infection Control* / organization & administration
  • Motivation
  • Nursing Evaluation Research / organization & administration*
  • Personnel, Hospital / education
  • Personnel, Hospital / psychology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Research Design
  • Safety
  • Time Factors
  • Universal Precautions* / statistics & numerical data