Shock and shame: Science behind getting people to wash their hands

Gimmie shelter from the ravages of time.

I’d largely forgotten about my lab’s handwashing phase, probably because I was leaving the safety (shurley not) of Kansas and heading to Australia.

But was reminded from this excerpt in The New Yorker from Nate Dern’s “Not Quite a Genius,” to be published by Simon & Schuster:

Employees must wash hands.

Employees must wash their own hands.

Employees must wash their own hands after they use the restroom.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands after they use the restroom.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands (literally, not metaphorically) after they use the restroom.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands (literally, not metaphorically) after they use the restroom, or else they are in violation of the health code.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands (literally, not metaphorically) after they use the restroom, or else they are in violation of the health code, and, no, there is no practical way to regulate or enforce this rule.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands (literally, not metaphorically) after they use the restroom, or else they are in violation of the health code, and, no, there is no practical way to regulate or enforce this rule, but, yes, we still ask, and trust that you will comply.

Employees of this restaurant must wash their own hands (literally, not metaphorically) after they use the restroom, or else they are in violation of the health code, and, no, there is no practical way to regulate or enforce this rule, but, yes, we still ask, and trust that you will comply, and, O.K., we apologize for the condescending tone of the posting of this rule, which seems to imply that without such a sign we would assume that our employees are disgusting children with no regard for their own hygiene.

Employees must wash hands. Greg has been fired.

Filion, K., KuKanich, K.S., Chapman, B., Hardigree, M.K., and Powell, D.A. 2011. Observation-based evaluation of hand hygiene practices and the effects of an intervention at a public hospital cafeteria. American Journal of Infection Control 39(6): 464-470.

Background

Hand hygiene is important before meals, especially in a hospital cafeteria where patrons may have had recent contact with infectious agents. Few interventions to improve hand hygiene have had measureable success. This study was designed to use a poster intervention to encourage hand hygiene among health care workers (HCWs) and hospital visitors (HVs) upon entry to a hospital cafeteria.

Methods

Over a 5-week period, a poster intervention with an accessible hand sanitizer unit was deployed to improve hand hygiene in a hospital cafeteria. The dependent variable observed was hand hygiene attempts. Study phases included a baseline, intervention, and follow-up phase, with each consisting of 3 randomized days of observation for 3 hours during lunch.

Results

During the 27 hours of observation, 5,551 participants were observed, and overall hand hygiene frequency was 4.79%. Hygiene attempts occurred more frequently by HCWs than HVs (P = .0008) and females than males (P = .0281). Hygiene attempts occurred more frequently after poster introduction than baseline (P = .0050), and this improvement was because of an increase in frequency of HV hand hygiene rather than HCW hand hygiene.

Conclusion

The poster intervention tool with easily accessible hand sanitizer can improve overall hand hygiene performance in a US hospital cafeteria.

Wilson, S.M., Jacob, C.J. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Behavior-change interventions to improve hand hygiene practice: A review. Critical Public Health 21: 119-127.

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a934338802~db=all~jumptype=rss

Despite the role of hand hygiene in preventing infectious disease, compliance remains low. Education and training are often cited as essential to developing and maintaining hand-hygiene compliance, but generally have not produced sustained improvements. Consequently, this literature review was conducted to identify alternative interventions for compelling change in hand-hygiene behavior. Of those, interventions employing social pressures have demonstrated varying influence on an individual’s behavior, while interventions that focus on organizational culture have demonstrated positive results. However, recent research indicates that handwashing is a ritualized behavior mainly performed for self-protection. Therefore, interventions that provoke emotive sensations (e.g., discomfort, disgust) or use social marketing may be the most effective.