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Are doctors forgetting the most basic hygiene practices?

The practice of medicine is known to be complicated and intensive. We know that doctors go through years or even decades of training and spend countless hours treating patients and helping them feel better. However, a new report suggests that amid all the complex demands of their job, doctors in New York and nationwide are failing to complete one of the most basic hygienic practices. 

A recent report suggests that doctors and other health care workers fail to wash their hands before interacting with patients a staggering 70 percent of the time. This overlooked practice is said to be a factor in the number of patients who develop life-threatening injuries because of infectious diseases contracted inside a health care facility. In fact, there are about 100,000 people who die every year because of an infection that is transmitted while they are in the hospital. 

Hospitals are working to remedy this issue because they may end up losing funding if patients continue to develop these preventable infections. For example, many hospitals have installed technological systems to track the number of times a health care employee washes his or her hands. Some facilities offer rewards programs for doctors who meet established criteria for proper hand-washing practices. There are even video cameras installed in some areas that record whether or not doctors wash their hands before entering a patient's room.

All of these efforts are being made because of the worrisome rate at which doctors are failing to practice basic hand-hygiene without encouragement. Some people do not wash their hands because they do not think they have time or because they are resistant to the authority that dictates they wash their hands. Others choose not to wash their hands or use an alcohol-based sanitizer because it dries out their skin.

Whatever the reasons are for a health care worker to neglect washing his or her hands, it is ultimately the patients who pay the price. Many of the infectious diseases that affect patients can exacerbate health conditions and make them sicker. When a patient gets sick or dies because of one of these largely preventable diseases, the negligent parties who contributed to the transmission by not providing a standard level of care should be held responsible. 

Source: The New York Times, "With Money at Risk, Hospitals Push Staff to Wash Hands," Anemona Hartocollis, May 28, 2013

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