The Hand Hygiene Journey

Hand prints on patient gowns remind health care providers to wash their hands.

When we began our journey in 2008, we found that only 31% of health care providers cleaned their hands before and after every contact with a patient. We were not alone; many other health care organizations had the same low rates. Now, our rate is well over 95%, and that means safer care for patients.

The World Health Organization reported that out of every 100 hospitalized patients, at least seven will acquire hospital-associated infections (HAI). This happens when a person is admitted to the hospital with one illness, and over the course of their stay, gets a second infection.

Germs on hands can lead to HAI and outbreaks of “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics and difficult to treat. The skin on our hands is the first line of defense against infection, but it is also the most likely way infections or microorganisms are spread.

Proper hand hygiene – washing hands and equipment shared between patients – makes a difference. As hand hygiene rates increase, the number of HAI decreases.

In 2011, when our hand hygiene compliance rate was 55%, there were 13 outbreaks through
HAI. We aimed to improve to help prevent patients, families, visitors, staff and physicians from becoming sick with infections that are acquired in the hospital.

We started by recognizing good performance to remind staff that clean hands save lives. We developed brochures, held contests, added reminders on patient gowns, increased the number of hand hygiene dispensers, ensured education, and even developed an award winning video about hand hygiene (

We still had not achieved our target of 95%. The next step was to work with our Human Resources department and unit managers to ensure “just-in-time” education and reinforcement of their responsibility for hand hygiene practices. The process included holding staff accountable through education, reinforcement, and compliance.

By 2013, our compliance increased to 95%. The number of outbreaks dropped significantly, as low as one outbreak in one year.

Our team made dramatic improvements, and our compliance rate has been at over 95% for the last three years. While we celebrate our success, we remain committed to ongoing improvement.

We want our hands to offer hope and healing, not to transmit infections, so our journey will continue.