I was cleaning out some of the interesting articles that I have collected over the past year and came across one of my favorites from the Wall Street Journal 2008. The essential premise of the article is that certain nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections can be 100% averted if proper hygiene regimens are followed - beginning with, of course, hand washing.
Certain facts in the article jump out at me:
1. Nearly all hospital infections are avoidable when doctors and staff clean their hands and rigorously practice proper hygiene and other preventive measures.
2. Since October of 2008 (according to the article) Medicare no longer reimburses hospitals for nosocomial infections following orthopedic or heart surgeries.
3. Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City hasn't had a central line (a large IV placed in a major blood vessel) bloodstream infection in the cardiac intensive care unit in nearly 3 years!
4. If you don't wash your hands and you pass on a nosocomial infection, you risk being sued.
Bottom line: Infections can be avoided with good hygiene beginning with hand washing. This is important not just in the O.R. but in every aspect of healthcare.
A great additional read is an entire chapter dedicated to hand washing in Atul Gawande's book Better.