President Garfield didn’t die from an assassin’s bullet, but rather from a doctor’s dirty hands.

Everyone knows, including our physicians, that proper hand washing is the most effective patient safety measure right?

Your physician and other clinicians (e.g. nurses, PTs, lab techs drawing blood) should wash their hands before and after each patient, and when beforehand wash in front of the patient.

Do you ask “Doctor, Did You Wash your Hands?” If not, why not?

First some history.

“Ignaz Semmelweis, a young Hungarian doctor working in the obstetrical ward of Vienna General Hospital in the late 1840s, was dismayed at the high death rate among his patients.

He had noticed that nearly 20% of the women under his and his colleagues’ care in “Division I” (physicians and male medical students) of the ward died shortly after childbirth. This phenomenon had come to be known as “childbed fever.” Alarmingly, Semmelweis noted that this death rate was four to five times greater than that in “Division II” (female midwifery students) of the ward.

One day, Semmelweis and some of his colleagues were in the autopsy room performing autopsies as they often did between deliveries. They were discussing their concerns about death rates from childbed fever.

One of Semmelweis’ friends was distracted by the conversation, and he punctured his finger with the scalpel. Days later, Semmelweis’ friend became quite sick, showing symptoms not unlike those of childbed fever. His friend’s ultimate death strengthened Semmelweis’ resolve to understand and prevent childbed fever.

In an effort to curtail the deaths in his ward due to childbed fever, Semmelweis instituted a strict hand washing policy amongst his colleagues in “Division I” of the ward. Everyone was required to wash their hands with chlorinated lime water prior to attending patients. Mortality rates immediately dropped from 18.3% to 1.3% in 1848 in Semmelweis’ division. (A)”

(1861) “…. Louis Pasteur was showing the world that microorganisms did indeed exist, that they acted on our world in myriad ways and that the ancient wisdom about “bad vapors” and spontaneous generation were wrong. Dead wrong. Prior to Pasteur and what would become known as “germ theory,” the prevailing theories held that organisms, like maggots and fleas, were spontaneously originated from other matter, like raw meat or diseased flesh…..

Pasteur is credited with opening the world’s eyes to the new science of microbiology and ushering in a brand new form of preventive medicine: immunization. …Building on what Pasteur was discovering, British surgeon Lister began to use this new germ theory to demonstrate the lifesaving value of disinfectant. Despite his skill at surgery, Lister knew that half his amputee patients would die of infection after the procedure…..

He began to treat his surgery equipment, before and after use, with carbolic acid. He also treated his patients’ wounds with it…..within two years, operative mortality decreased from nearly 50 percent to just 15 percent.” “Much of the greatness of Pasteur and Lister lies in their dogged persistence to spend 20 years convincing the rest of the medical world of the truth of their investigations,” ….. (B)

“What Dr. Towsend did next was something that Joseph Lister, despite years spent traveling the world, proving the source of infection and pleading with physicians to sterilize their hands and instruments, had been unable to prevent. As the president (Garfield) lay on the train station floor, one of the most germ-infested environments imaginable, Towsend inserted an unsterilized finger into the wound in his back, causing a small hemorrhage, and almost certainly introducing an infection that was far more lethal than Guiteau’s bullet.” (C) (1881)

FAST FORWARD 150 YEARS. 50% COMPLIANCE.

“Why Hospitals Want Patients to Ask Doctors, ‘Have You Washed Your Hands?’

It’s a simple enough request, but for patients and families who feel vulnerable, scared or uncomfortable in a hospital room, the subject can be too intimidating to even bring up with a doctor or nurse: Have you washed your hands?

Hospitals are encouraging patients to be more assertive, amid growing concern about infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

Strict hand hygiene measures are the gold standard for reducing infections associated with health care. Acquired primarily in hospitals but also in nursing homes, outpatient surgery centers and even doctor’s offices, they affect more than one million patients and are linked to nearly 100,000 deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC aims to engage both patients and caregivers in preventing dangerous hospital infections. Centers for Disease Control.

Yet despite years of efforts to educate both clinicians and patients, studies show hospital staff on average comply with hand-washing protocols, including cleansing with soap and water or alcohol-based gels, only about 50% of the time. (D)

In can be done! “How a team of doctors at one hospital boosted hand washing, cut infections and created a culture of safety.” (E)

BUT! THE MOST EFFECTIVE SOLUTION IS FOR YOU AS A PATIENT TO ASK “Doctor, Did You Wash your Hands?” Every time!

(A) http://www.sciencecases.org/childbed_fever/childbed_fever.asp

(B) http://www.hhnmag.com/articles/6647-throwback-thursday-pasteur-lister-and-the-dawn-of-germ-theory

(C) DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC, 2011

(D) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303918804579107202360565642

(E) https://www.yahoo.com/news/clean-hands–vanderbilt-s-hand-washing-initiative-172312795.html?ref=gs

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