As officials ask Canadians to wash their hands more to stem the spread of a novel coronavirus, doctors in B.C.’s hospitals will also have to do much better if they hope to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses.
Across the province, doctors continue to fail to meet hand-hygiene targets and lag behind their health care colleagues. As a group, doctors wash their hands less than four out of every five times in which they should, according to surveillance at facilities across the province by the Provincial Infection Control Network of British Columbia [PICNET]. Monitors have found they have only washed their hands in about 71 per cent of the cases in which they should.
Nurses, support staff and other health care providers consistently perform much better – around 82 per cent provincewide – although the figure varies depending on the institution, and staff in many B.C. institutions fail to meet the province’s 80 per cent target. (The “expectation” is that staff wash their hands in 100 per cent of necessary cases.)
Studies around the globe have shown physicians regularly lag behind other health service providers. And physician hand-washing rates have actually decreased over the last four years.
In 2017, PICNet’s then-director Bruce Gamage told The News that some fatigue may have set in after success in boosting rates at the beginning of the decade. Indeed, hand-washing was much rarer. In Fraser Health, hand hygiene compliance was just 26 per cent in 2009/10.
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The spread of COVID-19 has increased attention on hand-washing, but good hand hygiene is also seen as a key way to reduce the spread of a number of c. difficile and MRSA.
PICNET also measures hand hygiene in residential care facilities. Staff in those facilities washed their hands as needed 88 per cent of the time – better than those in hospitals.
“Both patients in acute care facilities and residents in residential care facilities are vulnerable to health care associated infections, a leading cause of death for people receiving care within our health care system,” PICNET declares in its most recent report. “Healthcare providers, including nursing staff, physicians, clinical support services, and others such as housekeeping staff, should lead by example in maintaining good hand hygiene.”
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