Busy Health-Care Workers Wash Their Hands Less

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When you work long hours at a ridiculous pace, the little things are going to slip through the cracks. This is obvious. But it’s also a problem — whatever your profession — and it’s particularly concerning in the realm of health care. According to new research, health-care professionals who work long, hectic days wash their hands less frequently as the hours tick by. 

The paper will be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Applied Psychology, and Gretchen Gavett at Harvard Business Review has a nice summary of the findings today.

She explains:

[The researchers] studied RFID technology data from more than 4,000 caregivers at 37 hospitals using Proventix, a monitor that measures when employees use hand soap and hand sanitizer dispensers. In total, there were 14,286,448 unique hand hygiene opportunities. It turned out that the majority of workers weren’t in compliance at all, and the compliance got worse as the day went on. 

Furthermore, the researchers found that the more patients a given employee saw, and the more time they spent with each patient, the less likely they were to wash their hands.

The good news: There’s a way to fight against this tendency. The health-care workers who took breaks during long shifts were more likely to comply with hospital hand hygiene rules. “Specifically, taking an additional half a day off is associated with a 1.3 increase in the odds that a caregiver is compliant when faced with a given hand hygiene opportunity on her subsequent shift,” the authors write. “While this effect is fairly small in size, even small increases in hand hygiene are valuable given the significant impact of hand cleanliness on preventing infections.” It’s yet another reminder of how important it is to give yourself a break.

Busy Health-Care Workers Wash Their Hands Less