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06/17/10   |   By

Wash Your Hands or You’re Fired! | DC Metro Area Medical Malpractice Law Blog

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Wash your hands or you’re fired! That, in short, is what Abingdon Memorial Hospital (located in Abingdon, PA) has begun telling its employees, although they do get two warnings before receiving a pink slip.

As reported by Fierce Healthcare, this seemingly drastic measure has been undertaken as the final step in a multi-pronged campaign begun in late 2007, when an internal investigation found that only 31% of staff were washing their hands regularly while on duty.

But why such an intense focus on hand-washing? Because poor hand-washing habits are a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections (also known as nosocomial infections), which according to the National Conference of State Legislatures kill nearly 100,000 patients per year in the United States alone.

Although basic hand-washing is an important part of any strategy to combat the spread of infections, hospital-acquired infections have also inspired more inventive defensive measures in recent years.

American Medical News reported on two such innovations on June 7. The first of these is a disposable, sterile, plastic stethoscope sheath, invented by Dr. Richard Ma, MD, an internist practicing in Massachusetts. The other is an iPhone case that kills bacteria, invented by Dr. Blaine Warkentine, MD, an orthopedist in Philadelphia.

Both stethoscopes and cell phones are capable of transporting infection-causing bacteria such as the fairly well-known Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from patient to patient. One study even found that fully 94.5% of health workers’ cell phones were contaminated by bacteria. So with that in mind, both inventions have the potential to drastically reduce the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

It is worth noting that, although our health care workers are without a doubt always striving to protect their patients, hospitals have recently been given extra motivation to reduce the incidence of hospital-acquired infections. A change in Medicare rules in 2008 means that, beginning in 2009, hospitals have no longer been reimbursed for all expenses related to the treatment of nosocomial infections–the theory being that hospitals cause them, so hospitals should pay for them. Hopefully this change will continue to stimulate even more innovations that will better protect patients in the future.

For more information, please refer to Hospital-Associated Infections, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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