Hand Hygiene in Nursing: Important Part of Patient Care

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Hand hygiene is a fundamental practice in nursing that plays a critical role in preventing the spread of infections in healthcare settings. Nurses are at the forefront of patient care, making frequent contact with patients, equipment, and surfaces, which can harbour harmful pathogens. By regularly cleaning their hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitisers, nurses can help reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) and safeguard the well-being of both patients and healthcare workers. Adherence to established hand hygiene protocols is essential, supported by ongoing education and monitoring to ensure compliance and uphold the highest standards of patient safety.

What is Hand Hygiene?

Hand hygiene in nursing refers to the practice of cleaning one's hands to prevent the spread of infection and maintain a safe and hygienic environment for patients and healthcare workers. It involves washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitisers to eliminate or reduce the number of microorganisms on the hands. In nursing, hand hygiene is crucial because healthcare workers frequently come into contact with patients, medical equipment, and surfaces that may harbour harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens.

The Impact of Poor Hand Hygiene in Nursing

  • Increased risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) such as MRSA, C. difficile, and surgical site infections
  • Transmission of pathogens between patients, leading to outbreaks within healthcare facilities
  • Prolonged hospital stays and increased healthcare costs associated with treating HAIs
  • Compromised patient safety and quality of care
  • Negative impact on the reputation and credibility of healthcare institutions
  • Risk of staff absenteeism due to illness, affecting staffing levels and patient care delivery
  • Potential legal implications and liability for healthcare professionals and organizations
  • Adverse effects on patient outcomes, including morbidity and mortality rates
  • The undermining of trust and confidence in healthcare providers and facilities within the community
  • The overall strain on healthcare resources and infrastructure diverts attention and resources away from other essential patient care activities

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Best Practices for Hand Hygiene in Nursing

Hand Hygiene Techniques: Handwashing vs. Hand Sanitising

Handwashing with soap and water effectively removes dirt and germs but may be time-consuming, while hand sanitisers offer quick disinfection but may not eliminate all pathogens. The choice depends on contamination levels, with handwashing suitable for visibly soiled hands and hand sanitising for routine hygiene when hands are not visibly soiled.

When to Perform Hand Hygiene?

Hand hygiene is crucial before and after direct patient contact, before aseptic procedures, after exposure to bodily fluids, after touching patient surroundings or equipment, and before and after glove use to prevent contamination and the spread of infection.

Selection of Hand Hygiene Products

Choose soaps and alcohol-based sanitisers that meet regulatory standards and are gentle on the skin. Considerations should include efficacy against a broad spectrum of pathogens and suitability for individuals with skin sensitivities or allergies.

Proper Handwashing Technique

To begin with, wet hands, apply soap, scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, paying attention to commonly missed areas like the backs of hands and between fingers, rinse well, and dry completely. Handwashing should be frequent, especially before and after patient contact and after using the restroom.

Factors Influencing Compliance with Hand Hygiene Protocols

Compliance is influenced by awareness of its importance, accessibility of facilities, time constraints, and organisational culture. Education, ensuring facility access, managing workload, and fostering a culture of safety can enhance compliance among healthcare workers.

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Importance of Hand Hygiene

  • Fundamental measures to prevent the spread of infections
  • Reduces risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)
  • Cost-effective intervention, saving healthcare costs
  • Promotes patient safety, trust, and satisfaction
  • Critical for public health to curb the transmission of infectious diseases
  • Strengthens healthcare systems and promotes a healthier society

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Why is hand hygiene important in nursing?

Hand hygiene is crucial in nursing to prevent the spread of infections between patients, healthcare workers, and visitors. It is one of the most effective ways to reduce the transmission of harmful microorganisms.

When should hand sanitiser be used, and how?

Hand sanitiser can be used when soap and water are not readily available. Apply a palmful of sanitiser, covering all surfaces of hands and fingers, and rub hands until dry.

What are the common mistakes in hand hygiene?

Common mistakes include not washing hands for a sufficient duration, not covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers, and skipping hand hygiene when it's necessary.

How can nurses encourage proper hand hygiene practices among colleagues and patients?

Nurses can lead by example, remind colleagues and patients about the importance of hand hygiene, provide education on proper techniques, and make hand hygiene supplies readily available.

What role does hand hygiene play in preventing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)?

Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent HAIs. By reducing the transmission of pathogens, hand hygiene helps protect patients from infections acquired during their healthcare.