Wash and Dry Your Hands!

We all know we’re supposed to wash our hands. A lot. Especially when we’re health care workers. All around the hospital and medical office are sinks and bottles of foam or gel sanitizer. Our patients probably have little bottles of sanitizer or wipes in their purses. There are antibacterial wipes at the grocery store so you can wipe down the cart handles. Kids these days use hand sanitizer, sneeze into their elbows and have no concept of life before digital cameras. (Yes, I know digital cameras have nothing to do with hand washing, but I’m always amazed that today’s kids will never know the agony of waiting for film to be developed before seeing whose head was cut out of the photo)!

Despite the fact that we know we’re SUPPOSED to wash our hands (a lot), we don’t do very well with this. Numerous studies have shown that health care workers have dismally low compliance with hand washing. Having conveniently placed foam or gel sanitizers everywhere you turn does help improve adherence. And, it seems, at least to me, does having cute or funny hand washing posters around the hospital. Recently some area hospitals have started displaying “movie” posters with important hand washing messages. I wasn’t sure if it was OK to photograph them, but trust me that I did laugh each time I turned a corner and saw one of my favorite movies turned into a message about hygiene. One poster has the classic outstretched fingers of “E.T.” but says, “E.G. – the extra-germestrial.” Instead of “Star Wars,” the familiar space logo now reads “Germ Wars.” I do have to admit that seeing these posters every day reminded me to wash my hands.

Once hands are washed, what about drying? I’ve noticed many hospitals and offices no longer have paper towels and instead have air dryers. Is there a difference, besides getting rid of the paper waste? In September, The New York Times’ Well Blog reviewed this topic. They found that there really was no difference in air vs. paper, as long as hands get dried. Personally, I’ve seen people not wash their hands at all or wash and leave without drying because of lines at the hand dryers. I timed a full dry cycle and it was 40 seconds until the machine shut off and my hands were still a little damp. Multiply 40 seconds by the dozens of times we wash our hands a day and that’s a good chunk of time. I could probably get some more blog posts out with all that extra time I’m spending drying my hands!

Bottom line – wash, dry, repeat! And sneeze into your elbow!

Photo Source: CDC.gov – it’s an e-card you can send!


4 responses to “Wash and Dry Your Hands!

  1. My rheumatologist carries around a bottle of hand sanitizer. As soon as she enters the room, she uses it on her hands. We talk for a while, then if she wants to do any sort of exam, she sanitizes her hands again before touching me. When finished, she sanitizes her hands again. Seriously. I watch her clean her hands three times every time I have an appointment with her.

    My PCP is a different story. He washed up before delivering my babies, but aside from that, in 15 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen him clean his hands.

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