Why patient hand hygiene matters


  Posted by: Dental Design      9th May 2020

When we think of infection control in a dental practice, it’s often the responsibilities of staff that come to mind. Indeed, whether it’s the correct use and wear of PPE, operation of sterilisers and autoclaves or the application of cleaning products, the majority of infection control comes down to the individuals who work in the dental practice.

But does this mean that we shouldn’t also be encouraging patients to do their bit towards keeping other patients safe? Hand hygiene is something that all dental professionals follow, but the same can’t necessarily be said about those visiting the practice. But what are the risks and how can you encourage change?

The facts of the matter

As much as we would love to pretend that everyone follows exceptional hygiene standards, this is, unfortunately, far from the case. Washing hands after visiting the bathroom should be second nature, but the statistics gathered tell a very different story.

Indeed according to Water Aid, globally, 4 out of 5 people don’t bother to wash their hands after using toilet facilities.[i] Surveys looking further into this phenomenon reveal that there is a distinct gender split at play here, and one largescale questionnaire that asked 100,000 British individuals found that 62% of men are guilty of this bad hygiene practice, while women, though less guilty, are still not angels with 40% of them avoiding the sink as they leave the bathroom.[ii]

What makes these statistics even more concerning is when we consider another study that secretly observed the washing habits of those who did take the time to wash their hands. This research revealed that 95% failed to wash their hands for long enough to kill bacteria, while 2 out of 3 people observed didn’t bother to use any soap, therefore making hand washing redundant.[iii]

Bad news for infection control

Of course, if we believe these statistics then it means that the majority of people aren’t cleaning their hands properly, if at all. This has a number of consequences, especially if we consider that many diseases can be spread from hands to other surfaces, or even between people.

A simple handshake is all it takes for a number of diseases to transfer from person to person. Certainly, the bacteria and viruses responsible for gastrointestinal illnesses such as salmonella, respiratory infections like influenza and other fairly serious conditions can easily thrive on hands and make the journey into people’s mouths from there, resulting in these diseases spreading.[iv] While not necessarily dangerous to all, these sort of illnesses can still result in hospitalisation and even fatalities if the person who catches them has a compromised immune system or any weaknesses.

Even more concerning is the fact that a number of really serious infections can be transmitted via this method. For example, coronavirus can be transferred from person to person if people carrying the virus do not wash their hands correctly, and we all know that this disease has resulted in thousands of deaths in countries around the world.[v]

As such, hand hygiene is something we should all be taking more seriously in practice. But how do you encourage patients to put hand washing first?

Patient-focused protection

One really good method to help encourage better hand-washing is by making information readily available. For example, putting posters up in waiting areas and above bathroom sinks is a great way to help individuals engage with information, especially if they can apply it as soon as they’ve seen it. By putting posters in multiple locations, you can hopefully catch the attention of even those individuals who usually avoid the sink on the way out of the bathroom.

Another thing to bear in mind is what sort of hand washing products you are providing. Although all types of soap are effective, it’s wise to choose products that provide absolute protection but are also kind to skin, such as the Steri-7 Xtra handwash from Initial Medical. Dye and fragrance free, this hand wash deactivates 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses, without drying out hands and leaving the skin damaged. Inbuilt Reactive Barrier Technology ensures that this hand wash protects against germs for up to 3 hours after use, and the foam formulation of the product allows for quicker and more effective application.

Small changes for big results

At the end of the day, it is impossible to police hand washing habits among patients, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t give them as much encouragement as possible to practice good hygiene. By simply making easy to use, effective hand hygiene products readily available and also making information eye-catching, you can make a big difference.

For further information please visit www.initial.co.uk/medical or Tel: 0870 850 4045


Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 17years and was a Research Chemist with Bayer Cropscience prior to joining Rentokil Initial in 2003.  She keeps up to date on all developments within the clinical waste management industry and is an active member of the CIWM, SMDSA and BDIA.  




About Initial Medical Waste Experts

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[i] Water Aid. Globally, 4 out of 5 People Do not Wash Hands After using The Bathroom. Link: https://www.wateraid.org/us/media/global-handwashing-day-hygiene-in-schools-healthy-children [Last accessed February 2020].

[ii] Mail Online. Do YOU Always Wash Your Hands After Going To The Loo? 62% of Men and 40% of Women Admit They Don’t Bother. Link:  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2971931/Do-wash-hands-going-loo-62-men-40-women-admit-don-t-bother.html [Last accessed February 2020].

[iii] Live Science. Gross! Just 5 Per Cent of Bathroom Users Wash Hands Correctly. Link: https://www.livescience.com/37326-bathroom-hand-washing-habits.html [Last accessed February 2020].

[iv] Better Health Channel. Handwashing – Why It’s Important. Link: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/handwashing-why-its-important [Last accessed February 2020].

[v] Asia Pacific. Deaths in China Surpass Toll from SARS. Link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/09/world/asia/coronavirus-china.html [Last accessed February 2020].

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