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With Proper Hand Washing, Nurses Protect Patients’ Health

Hand washing nurse wearing a stethoscope

Proper hand washing helps prevent around 20% of respiratory infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Hand hygiene is one of the cornerstones of infection prevention and control in healthcare settings. With proper hand washing, nurses are engaging in a critical practice that protects patients’ health. Hand hygiene prevents the spread of infections and ensures safe, effective care.

Let’s explore the impact of hand hygiene on patient outcomes and learn strategies to maintain high standards in healthcare settings.

By hand washing, nurses protect vulnerable patients

Nurses, who frequently move between patients and different areas of the healthcare facility, are known to be at higher risk for transferring pathogens. Effective hand washing, nurses know, significantly reduces the likelihood of healthcare-associated infections. 

Healthcare-associated infections can lead to severe complications, prolonged hospital stays, increased healthcare costs, and even mortality. By practicing proper hand hygiene such as hand washing, nurses can protect patients. 

By hand washing, nurses interrupt the transmission of pathogens from the hands of healthcare workers to patients. Some patients are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to infections. With proper hand washing, nurses can prevent these vulnerable patients from contracting infections that can complicate their recovery.

Newborns and older patients are also particularly susceptible to infections due to underdeveloped or weakened immune systems. Likewise, patients in surgical and intensive care units (ICUs) are at higher risk for infections. With rigorous hand hygiene practices, including hand washing, nurses can safeguard these patients’ health.

Proper hand-washing techniques 

Nurses often serve as role models for other healthcare workers and trainees. By consistently practicing proper hand washing, nurses set a positive example. Visible hand hygiene practices by nurses can help build and maintain trust of patients and family members. 

Nurses should wash their hands at critical moments to prevent the spread of infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthcare workers should follow these steps for hand hygiene (outlined in their guide, Five Moments for Hand Hygiene):

  1. Before touching a patient
  2. Before performing a clean/aseptic procedure (such as inserting a catheter or preparing an injection)
  3. After an exposure risk to body fluids (and after glove removal)
  4. After touching a patient (or their immediate surroundings)
  5. After touching a patient's surroundings (any object or furniture in the patient's immediate surroundings, even if the patient has not been touched

To practice effective hand washing, nurses need to follow several key steps to ensure thorough cleaning. The CDC recommends these steps for hand hygiene for healthcare workers (for washing hands with soap and water):

  • Soak your hands with water.
  • Apply the recommended amount (determined by the manufacturer) of product to your hands.
  • Rub your hands together vigorously for a minimum of 15 seconds (covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers).
  • Rinse your hands with water then use disposable towels to dry. Also, make sure you use a towel to turn off the faucet.
  • Avoid using hot water to prevent drying of the skin.

In situations where soap and water may not be available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used. Hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective. However, hand sanitizers are not appropriate for hands that are visibly dirty or greasy, and they do not eliminate all types of germs. To properly use hand sanitizers, apply the product to the palm of one hand. Then rub hands together, covering all surfaces until hands feel dry (which takes around 20 seconds). 

With proper hand washing, nurses improve patient outcomes

Studies have consistently shown that improved hand hygiene practices lead to a significant reduction in the rates of healthcare-acquired infections. Research continually reinforces the importance of hand hygiene in healthcare. However, very high hand hygiene compliance rates are difficult to reach

By practicing proper hand washing, nurses increase the likelihood that patients will recover without complications. That’s particularly important for patients undergoing surgery, patients with chronic illness, and those in ICUs. With hand washing, nurses ensure those patients are more likely to recover faster and return to their daily lives sooner.

Preventing infections through proper hand hygiene reduces the need for antibiotics, which combats the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. By minimizing the occurrence of healthcare-acquired infections with hand washing, nurses contribute to reducing the spread of resistant bacteria. 

Strategies to promote hand hygiene in nursing

Continuous education and training are essential to maintain high standards of hand hygiene among nurses. Nurses will benefit from regular training sessions, workshops, and refresher courses on hand hygiene techniques and protocols.

Interactive methods, such as simulation, role-playing, and demonstrations, can enhance learning and retention. Regular competency assessments ensure that nurses are proficient in hand hygiene practices. 

Campaigns related to hand hygiene can help promote this. Posters and signs, placed near sinks and hand sanitizer dispensers, can serve as constant reminders. Incentive programs, offering rewards for consistent adherence to hand hygiene protocols, can also make it clear.   

With a visible commitment, others will follow suit

Nursing leaders who visibly commit to hand hygiene practices can inspire staff nurses to do the same. Nursing units should create a supportive environment, where nurses feel empowered to prioritize hand hygiene. 

Is there regular monitoring and feedback on hand washing? If so, nurses will be more motivated to continue good hand hygiene practices. Audits, direct observation, or feedback sessions can identify areas for improvement. 

Placing hand hygiene stations near patient rooms and high-traffic areas can encourage frequent use. Ensuring that supplies, such as soap, water, and hand sanitizers, are easily accessible, is another critical step. 

Hand washing is a simple way nurses and other healthcare professionals can protect patients’ health. However, it must be done consistently. With continuous education and nursing leadership making hand hygiene a clear priority, nurses can contribute to a safer, healthier healthcare environment. 

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