Physician, wash thy hands

In British Columbia in 2014, the mantra remains: “Physicians, clean yourselves — and begin by washing your damn hands.”

In Luke 4:23, it is written: “Physician, heal thyself.”

In British Columbia in 2014, the mantra remains: “Physicians, clean yourselves — and begin by washing your damn hands.”

Why? Because the difference between washing your hands and ignoring the soap and water can truly be a matter of life and death.

The latest Hand Cleaning Compliance Audit has been released by the Provincial Infection Control Network of B.C. (a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority), which sends trained auditors into hospitals across the province to see who is and who is not washing their hands.

And, while the provincial overall hand-cleaning compliance rate rose to 77 per cent in the 2013-2014 fiscal year — an improvement from a 70 percent rate recorded in the 2011-2012 fiscal year — the group that most continues to wash its hands of the need to wash its hands is the province’s doctors.

As has been the case with all the audits year after year, doctors sit at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to audited hand-washing, with a rate of only 64 per cent in the latest audit.

While it might be wise to decline to shake the doc’s hand the next time one is at your bedside, nurses once again proved to be the most responsible group in hospitals, clocking in at a 79 per cent hand-cleaning compliance rate.

Workers in clinical-support services (such as occupational therapists, psychologists, radiologists and paramedics) had a 75 per cent hand-cleaning compliance rate, while a group dubbed “other” (including housekeeping, security and administrative workers) registered a 69 per cent compliance rate.

Of the province’s five health regions, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) rated middle of the pack, at 75 per cent, which is a huge improvement from 2011-2012, when the IHA posted a 58 per cent compliance rate.

Again, why wash hands?

The introduction to the audit report tells us why, in the first sentences: “Health care-associated infections are one of the most frequent and severe complications among hospitalized patients and the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada. Transmission of health care-associated pathogens most often occurs via the contaminated hands of health-care providers.”

And here we have almost four in every 10 doctors noted in provincewide audits not doing something as basic as adding soap and water to their hands while in hospitals.

The need to wash hands with plain soap and water continues to be hammered home in kindergarten classes and via signs in school hallways, restaurant washrooms and everywhere in between. With C. diff and Norovirus and all manner of horrible sicknesses able to jump from person to person via five fingers and a palm, we should all be in a lather about the disappointing doctor numbers.

And, so should the doctors — before and after every patient they see.

-Christopher Foulds is editor of Kamloops This Week.