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The Dirty Truth

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 5:25am
Jeff Reinke, editorial director
While numbers can be manipulated, skewed, slanted and re-positioned in a number of ways to either support or deface an argument, the one thing they do not do … is lie. And considering the statement one collection of numbers that I recently stumbled across makes, this is a rather disturbing truth.

While numbers can be manipulated, skewed, slanted and re-positioned in a number of ways to either support or deface an argument, the one thing they do not do … is lie. And considering the statement one collection of numbers that I recently stumbled across makes, this is a rather disturbing truth.

According to a 2008 study (www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5116a1.htm) by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), healthcare professionals in hospitals throughout the U.S. meet the standard level of hand washing compliance only 40 percent of the time. It’s a mark I’m pretty sure my two daughters (ages 4 and 6) could surpass, and exceptionally troubling when one considers the scope of responsibility so many of these individuals carry.

I understand time demands and the pressing needs of medical professionals, but an inability to properly wash one’s hands even half the time seems ridiculous. Maybe the healthcare reform legislation currently being kicked around by our country’s leadership should simply entail an influx of hand soap and hot water-ready sinks.

Infection control represents a billion dollar problem for hospitals and, as a direct result, the health care marketplace. Longer hospital stays and avoidable procedures are among the most prominent targets of greater infection control procedures because of their expensive and life-threatening dynamics. However, in the age of H1N1 and availability issues for flu vaccines, a simple element like unsuccessful hand washing abilities makes me wonder if there aren’t a number of other simple, yet critical aspects of infection control that are not being addressed.

I think this hand washing statistic sheds light on the fact that while many are looking for a couple of prominent silver bullet-like issues on which to focus in altering the face of modern health care, the truth is that there a number of little things, like proper hand washing, that can probably carry greater weight.

Those whom I work with are accustomed to hearing about those smaller, yet vitally important tasks that I refer to as blocking and tackling. It seems the healthcare environment, and infection control in particular, has its own unique set of minor issues that, once resolved, could go a long way in winning out over controllable opponents that can cause patients much grief and absorb valuable hospital resources.

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