Involving the patient to ask about hospital hand hygiene: a National Patient Safety Agency feasibility study

J Hosp Infect. 2011 Apr;77(4):299-303. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2010.10.013. Epub 2011 Jan 13.


Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) affect at least 300,000 patients annually in the UK and represent a significant, yet largely preventable, burden to healthcare systems. Hand hygiene by healthcare workers (HCWs) is the leading prevention measure, but compliance with good practice is generally low. The UK National Patient Safety Agency surveyed the public, inpatients, and HCWs, particularly frontline clinical staff and infection control nurses, in five acute care hospitals to determine whether they agreed that a greater level of involvement and engagement with patients would contribute to increased compliance with hand hygiene and reduce HAIs. Fifty-seven percent (302/530) of the public were unlikely to question doctors on the cleanliness of their hands as they assumed that they had already cleaned them. Forty-three percent (90/210) of inpatients considered that HCWs should know to clean their hands and trusted them to do so, and 20% (42/210) would not want HCWs to think that they were questioning their professional ability to do their job correctly. Most HCWs surveyed (178/254, 71%) said that HAI could be reduced to a greater or lesser degree if patients asked HCWs if they had cleaned their hands before touching them. Inviting patients to remind HCWs about hand hygiene through the provision of individual alcohol-based hand-rub containers and actively supporting an 'It's OK to ask' attitude were perceived as the most useful interventions by both patients and HCWs. However, further work is required to refute the myth among HCWs that patient involvement undermines the doctor- or HCW-patient relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Guideline Adherence / standards*
  • Hand Disinfection / standards*
  • Hospitals*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Professional-to-Patient / prevention & control
  • Patients*
  • United Kingdom