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The Importance of Hand Hygiene in Healthcare

If you’ve been in the wound care or health care industry for quite some time, you probably come across the term “standard precautions” more often than usual.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise given how fast infection can spread and how lethal these infections can be. As the saying goes, prevention will always be better than cure.

What are Standard Precautions?

Standard precautions are a set of infection control practices healthcare professionals use to keep microorganisms from spreading in a healthcare facility or setting. These practices aim to protect both the patients and healthcare personnel, from getting in contact with infectious agents.

These practices include hand hygiene as well as the use of personal protective equipment or PPEs.

Hand hygiene is simply the practice of washing one’s hands with soap and water (or any alcohol-based hand sanitizer, for that matter) both before and after contact with patients.

Personal protective equipment, on the other hand, protects health professionals who are exposed to blood, body fluids, excretions, secretions, mucous membranes, or non-intact skin. PPEs include gloves, masks, eye protection, and gowns.

Standard precautions should be used regardless of the patient’s diagnosis or whether or not they have a communicable infection or disease. In short, standard precautions are something that are practiced ALL THE TIME.

Why is Hand Hygiene Important?

Infections are considered serious issues in healthcare facilities because some of them can be lethal when left unnoticed. In fact, an estimate of 2 million patients contract a hospital-related infection every year according to studies.

Many of these infections are transmitted through the hands of healthcare personnel, making hand hygiene a crucial, if not essential part of standard precautions.

Why? Because it can help reduce if not stop infection from spreading not just to your patients but to your fellow healthcare professionals as well.

When Should Hand Hygiene Be Used?

It is unfortunate that hand hygiene isn’t practiced more often and below are some of the scenarios when hand hygiene is most important.

  • Immediately before touching a patient or performing an invasive procedure as well as before manipulating or using an invasive device.

  • Before putting on your gloves

  • After touching a patient, contaminated items, or surfaced.

  • After removing one’s gloves.

  • After touching items or surfaces in the immediate environment even if you never touched the patient while you were there.

Should you still wash/clean your hands even if you didn’t touch or have physical contact with a patient? The short answer is ‘YES” because of the following reasons:

  • Surfaces like bed rails, IV pumps, and even computer mouse and keyboard usually contain bacteria.

  • Bacteria can survive for days both on equipment and other surfaces.

Soap and Water or Alcohol-Based Hand Rub?

While soap and alcohol is usually the go-to method given its accessibility, the use of alcohol-based hand rubs is still the preferred option because they are more effective bacteria killers and they are less damaging to the hands. They also require less time compared to the use of soap and water.

When washing with soap and water, you should rub your hands for at least 15 seconds. If you use alcohol-based hand rubs, you should rub your hands together until they are dry.

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