Medical center more than doubles hand washing rates during "Big Wash"

Medical center more than doubles hand washing rates during "Big Wash"

UChicago Medicine's 24-hour event aimed at reducing infections using novel tracking system

January 7, 2016

The University of Chicago Medicine more than doubled the industry's daily hand washing rate during a unique, 24-hour campus-wide challenge aimed at reducing hospital-acquired infections.

The one-day Big Wash, which took place in December, inspired nearly 97,000 hand-hygiene events in 24 hours – roughly one hand scrubbing per second. The figure is based on the number of times each patient, visitor and employee used hand sanitizer or soap when they entered and exited a patient room.

While patients may expect handwashing perfection in any health care setting, hand hygiene rates are notoriously low across the country. Some studies peg the figure at roughly 40 percent.

It's a vexing problem for health care organizations, which have been struggling to get employees to consistently wash their hands. The practice is a critical way to control infections and improve patient safety, particularly since the CDC estimates that 1 in 25 patients in the U.S. get a hospital-acquired infection annually.

Industry standards of measuring hand hygiene involve personal observation and are notoriously unreliable. That's because people traditionally comply with hand washing policies only when they're being watched. When the watcher leaves, rates plummet.

During UChicago Medicine's Big Wash, hospital administrators used GOJO SMARTLINK, a high-tech activity monitoring system developed by GOJO Industries Inc. to track when soap and sanitizer dispensers were used. The medical center used 2,581 sensors to track hand hygiene for the contest at the three-hospital campus on Chicago's South Side.

During the Big Wash, nurse managers and the hospital's infection control team rallied both clinicians and visitors with light-up signs, educational charts, balloons, cookies and even hand lotion. They also deployed visible cues, themed decorations and handed out stickers for people who were spotted washing their hands by trained observers. The entire day was documented on social media channels under the hashtag #BigWashUCM.

"The event highlighted an everyday priority – that sanitized hands are safe hands – in a fun way," said Emily Landon, MD, hospital epidemiologist. "It was really a triumph of excellent hand hygiene that has never been described anywhere before."

UChicago Medicine had hoped for 100 percent compliance during the 24-hour period. While the hospital fell short of its ambitious goal, many hospital units doubled their hand-washing rates. Nearly a dozen logged 100 percent compliance. Units with the highest compliance and the biggest improvement won prizes.

"When we work together, it's amazing what we can accomplish," said Gretchen Pacholek, MSN, BSN, RN, director of surgical and multispecialty services.

Hospital leadership hopes the one-day effort lives on and is a catalyst to improving UChicago Medicine's hand hygiene rates. They also hope to inspire other hospitals to follow suit with similar tracking efforts.