Hand hygiene and face touching in family medicine offices: a Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement Group (CARInG) network study

J Am Board Fam Med. May-Jun 2014;27(3):339-46. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2014.03.130242.


Background: Family medicine offices may play an important role in the transmission of common illnesses such as upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). There has, however, been little study of whether physicians teach patients about URTI transmission and what their own actions are to prevent infection. The purpose of this study was to assess the quality of hand hygiene and the frequency with which family physicians and staff touch their eyes, nose, and mouth (the T-zone) as well as physician and staff self-reported behaviors and recommendations given to patients regarding URTI prevention.

Methods: We observed family physicians and staff at 7 offices of the Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement Group (CARInG) practice-based research network for the quality of hand hygiene and number of T-zone touches. After observations, participants completed surveys about personal habits and recommendations given to patients to prevent URTIs.

Results: A total of 31 clinicians and 48 staff participated. They touched their T-zones a mean of 19 times in 2 hours (range, 0-105 times); clinicians did so significantly less often than staff (P < .001). We observed 123 episodes of hand washing and 288 uses of alcohol-based cleanser. Only 11 hand washings (9%) met Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for effective hand washing. Alcohol cleansers were used more appropriately, with 243 (84%) meeting ideal use. Participants who were observed using better hand hygiene and who touched their T-zone less report the same personal habits and recommendations to patients as those with poorer URTI prevention hygiene.

Conclusions: Clinicians and staff in family medicine offices frequently touch their T-zone and demonstrate mixed quality of hand cleansing. Participants' self-rated URTI prevention behaviors were not associated with how well they actually perform hand hygiene and how often they touch their T-zone. The relationship between self-reported and observed behaviors and URTIs in family medicine office settings needs further study.

Keywords: Infectious Diseases; Practice-based Research; Respiratory Tract Diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Face
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Hand Hygiene / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ohio
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult