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10/05/2009

Slapping Docs’ Hands for Not Washing Them

That’s the recommendation from the master of medical checklists Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University and Robert Wachter of University of California at San Francisco, says the WSJ Health Blog.

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Lack of accountability is the reason why a whole range of medical errors exist contend the pair, according to a NEJM article, including unnecessary infections.

With the H1N1 flu season on the brink, taking the precautions are even more necessary–so penalizing those who don’t wash up has become even more important than usual.

The kinds of punishments proposed by Pronovost and Wachter include laying off health practitioners for up to a week for failing to wash their hands. While this may seem rather draconian under normal circumstances, in the time of a pandemic, letting these professionals know that hospitals mean business about hygiene may not be a bad idea.
However, laying off doctors in a pandemic when it may be a time for “all hands on deck” may not be the most sensible approach. Perhaps fines to these physicians and nurses would be a better approach.

Clearly something must be done to show them that hand washing is serious business; the question is how to enforce the rules and how best to ensure patients will not be put in danger by healthcare practitioners who may be lax about basic hygiene.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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