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Winter is the time of year when hand hygiene is most important—germs and viruses are traveling between people all the time. One way to keep illness at bay is to make sure that your hands are clean.

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago has a number of interesting, fun, and effective ways of getting health care staff to keep their hands clean. Kim Romberg, MSN, RN, CIC, Infection Preventionist at Shriners, took the time to answer our questions.

Tell me about your recent control week and the test where you swapped nurses’ cellphones. What did you discover?

During Infection Prevention Week, I did a visual presentation for staff where I randomly asked four staff members for their cellphones and swabbed them. I had our in-house hospital lab plate the swabs. Two of the cellphones were of office staff in non-patient care areas and two were cellphones of nurses. I took photos of the results two days later and shared them with our entire Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago staff. The plates with the office staff had a lot of growth, whereas the nurses’ cellphones did not, making the point that our nurses clean their hands frequently and helped keep their personal devices clean.

How do nurses make sure that they have clean hands on a regular basis?

Our program is called “High Five” for Hand Hygiene. If a staff member was observed not to have cleaned their hands when they should have, another staff will give them a cue and say, “High Five,” indicating they need to clean their hands, but not embarrassing them in front of patients.

We also use the motto of “foam in and out.”

Staff are expected to clean their hands when entering the patients’ rooms and upon exiting…and also in the room if needed. We also use secret observers who document their observations and turn them in to me on a quarterly basis. I review the forms, tally the rates, and send a feedback letter to those who were found to be noncompliant. They are asked to review the steps of hand hygiene and then sign and return the form. Their confidentiality is maintained.

How can they encourage patients to keep their hands clean? What about their families or friends who visit?

We have hand hygiene signs throughout the hospital encouraging people to keep their hands clean. Our hospital admissions are given a folder with hand hygiene instructions included. During Infection Prevention Week, I deputized patients with badges and asked them to be the Hand Hygiene Police. I gave them hand clappers and on one side I wrote “Please wash” and on the other side “Thank you for cleaning your hands.” I asked patients to clap the clappers, and let staff know they were being thanked for cleaning their hands or remind them to clean their hands.

Why is it important for everyone to keep their hands clean?

Hand hygiene is still the number one way to reduce the risk of infections and illnesses.

I’ve heard people say the kind of cleaner that automatically dries will dry their hands out, so they don’t want to use it. What would you say to encourage these people to do it?

In studies, the alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been found to be less drying to the skin then soap and water, but an important and sometimes overlooked part of a hand hygiene program also includes the use of lotion. We have hand lotion on hand for staff to use.

What is the ReadyDock? What does it do?

The ReadyDock is an Ultra Violet light machine that kills organisms on small items such as cell phones, stethoscopes, iPads, etc. The items are put into the machine and disinfected within a few minutes rendering them free of organisms. It is a way to disinfect without using a liquid disinfectant. After our Infection Prevention Week petri dish show and tell, our staff had increased interest in using the ReadyDock disinfection stations around the hospital.

How do you encourage nurses to keep their hands clean?

Our staff has chosen the products that we use and we are always talking about hand hygiene. Hand hygiene education is presented multiple times during hospital-wide orientation and annually through mandatory computerized based learning modules.

Is there anything else about the importance of hand hygiene that you think is important for people to know?

It is important to keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face to keep our patients, staff, and families safe and healthy.

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