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Vanderbilt University Program Demonstrates How Higher Hand-Washing Rates Can Prevent Hospital Infections

August 06, 2014

Medical malpractice in a hospital setting can take many forms, such as wrong limb amputation, failure to diagnose a heart attack and other potentially life-threatening medical errors.  One of the most significant and overlooked form of medical malpractice that can threaten patient safety involves inadequate hygiene and infection prevention measures.  A recent program implemented at Vanderbilt University Hospital has focused attention on both the need for improvement and the potential effectiveness of better hygiene measures.

By implementing an aggressive program to promote more frequent hand-washing, the hospital’s hand-washing rates nearly doubled.  The program relied on monitors to track the number of times doctors, nurses and other health care workers in the hospital washed their hands.  This data was compared to the number of times that those involved in patient care should have washed their hands.  When the program was implemented in 2009, the hand-washing rate was only 58 percent.  By 2013, this rate had increased to 94.7 percent.  The rise in hand-washing rate corresponded to a decrease in hospital acquired infections.  Multiple stubborn types of infections became less prevalent with one of these infection rates declining by 80 percent.  The decline in infections from improved hand-washing included the following:

  • 61 percent drop in pneumonia linked to the use of respirators
  • 33 percent drop in urinary infections from use of catheters
  • 80 percent reduction in bloodstream infections related to central lines that provide fluids and drugs to patient in ICU

The reason this revelation is important is that hospital acquired infection is one of the most common and serious causes of complications and fatalities among hospital patients.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hand-washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of dangerous infection in hospitals from MRSA, a potentially fatal staph infection to pneumonia.  The CDC reports that one in 25 patients will battle an infection acquired during a hospital stay.  In one recent year, 772,000 people were afflicted with a health care-related infection in the U.S., and approximately 75,000 people died from these infections during this same period.

The successful Vanderbilt University program has an interesting origin because it was instituted by a physician at the university based on observations of his wife’s care.  Dr. Gerald Hickson is the senior vice president for Quality, Safety and Risk Prevention at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which includes the hospital where his wife underwent double knee replacement.  During her time in the hospital, Hickson counted 92 occasions were doctors, nurses or other patent care providers should have washed their hands.  On 60 of these occasions, the doctor or staff member failed to engage in this basic infection prevention procedure.

Most people expect that a visit to the hospital will result in treatment of their medical condition.  Patients do not anticipate that a stay in the hospital will result in developing a new medical problem.  Unfortunately, unsanitary practices in some hospitals has made this a growing source of concern for patients.  When doctors, nurses and other staff fail to wash their hands or change gloves between patients, this failure to observe proper anti-infection practices can pose a serious threat to patient health.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 37 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Claim!

If you or someone you love has acquired a severe infection in the hospital, you may have a right to seek financial compensation.  Our Georgia medical malpractice attorneys represent clients who suffer injury or complications caused by medical malpractice.  Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.  No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat. 


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