The Hawthorne Effect at Work

The Hawthorne Effect at Work – 15th September, 2016

The medical field has known for almost 200 years that disinfecting hands saves lives by reducing the ability to carry disease. But even in 2016, global hand hygiene compliance remains shockingly low. At any given time, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes the presence of at least 1.4 million healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), even as the nonprofit accreditation body the Joint Commission has dubbed hand hygiene “the most important intervention for preventing HAIs.”

Around the world, a number of studies show hospitals’ hand hygiene compliance rates tend to hover at or below 40 percent, on average. In just the United States, HAIs cost hospitals between $28 billion and $45 billion per year, according to a 2009 whitepaper written by R. Douglas Scott II for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that’s merely the financial toll. In that same report, Scott said about 75,000 HAI patients died during their hospitalization.

No question ought to linger, then, about the need to improve hand hygiene compliance. When that happens, fewer people should contract, and die from, HAIs and, as a bonus, hospitals will save money, too. In fact, Scott discovered that prevention reduces hospitals’ collective annual spending on HAIs to a range of about $6 billion to $32 billion. Reaching that target takes buy-in from everyone within that healthcare ecosystem, from the CEO and infection preventionists to the cafeteria worker delivering food. Nonetheless, as the statistics prove, simply teaching healthcare staff of all roles to wash or sanitize their hands still leads to unacceptable consequences. Medical institutions must go beyond basic education and the optimal solution may lie in engaging both people and technology such as real-time locating systems that log and communicate when providers have used, or can use, sanitizing stations.

But that first element, the human factor, is key, as a study from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) highlights.

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