Handwashing motivator: Study shows posters can help increase hand hygiene practices

A study by Kansas State University shows posters can make a difference when it comes to hand hygiene in a health care setting.

The research, based on observations of more than 5,000 patrons at a hospital-based cafeteria, shows that an evidence-based informational poster can increase attempts at hand hygiene. The study appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, and was funded by One Health Kansas, a project supported by the Kansas Health Foundation.

The research team included K-State’s Katie Filion, a December 2010 master’s graduate in biomedical science; Kate KuKanich, assistant professor of clinical sciences; Megan Hardigree, a 2008 master’s graduate in kinesiology; and Doug Powell, professor of food safety. Also on the team was Ben Chapman, assistant professor in the department of 4-H youth development and family and consumer sciences at North Carolina State University.

Hand hygiene is important before meals, especially in a hospital cafeteria where patrons may have had recent contact with infectious agents, KuKanich said.

"Few interventions to improve hand hygiene have had measurable success. This study was designed to use a poster intervention to encourage hand hygiene among health care workers and hospital visitors upon entry to a hospital cafeteria," she said.

Over a five-week period, a poster intervention with an accessible hand-sanitizer unit was deployed to improve hand hygiene at the entrance to a hospital cafeteria. An anonymous researcher was able to observe hand hygiene attempts from the adjacent dining area. The study included baseline, intervention and follow-up phases, with each consisting of three randomized days of observation for three hours at lunchtime.

Gains were modest, Powell said. During the 27 hours of observation, 5,551 participants were observed, with hand hygiene attempts increasing from 3.16 per cent to 6.17 per cent.

Hand washing compliance efforts have focused on increasing availability of proper tools for hand hygiene, education and training, and use of prompts such as visual reminders or peer pressure and the presence of others, according to Powell and KuKanich.

"Hand hygiene is still the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, many of us don’t wash our hands as often as we should," KuKanich said.

"Those ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ signs in bathrooms may not be the most effective reminder," Powell said. "While improvements in this study were modest, we have set an evaluation framework to work with informational posters that use more graphical messages and reminders that use a shock-and-shame approach."

An abstract of "Observation-based evaluation of hand hygiene practices and the effects of an intervention at a public hospital cafeteria" is available at http://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553%2810%2900986-7/abstract

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, barfblog.com retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 dpowell29@gmail.com 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time