Hospital Infections - Hands Aren't the Only "Unclean" Culprits

September 18 2007

Reams of paper, many megabytes of files and untold hours of conferences and seminars cover hospital infection control. Indeed, there is a journal by that name. Most of the attention to hospital-acquired infections has been focused on unwashed hands, soiled gloves and non-sterile equipment. There is one highly-questionable practice (in my mind, at least) that is routinely observable OUTSIDE hospital walls in the Chicago area - the home of the world's largest urban medical district.

Loosely-fitting blue pants, blue or colorful smock tops, even the occasional white jacket atop hospital garments are apparently considered appropriate street attire by some health care "professionals" as they ride public transportation and walk to work. Even if they sported the crisp, starched look of yesteryear -- which most do not, as the rumpled, slept-in look seems to be the current fashion statement -- imagine the spectrum of  bacteria, fungi, soot and other environmental contaminants adhering to these workers' clothing, threatening the health of patients whose resistance to infection likely is already weakened from drugs and surgery.

Commuting to a hospital in a health care uniform is, I believe, a symptom of a far more troubling factor in the high incidence of hospital-acquired infections. When a worker steps through a hospital door with "unclean" clothing, there is no particular hygienic mindset to protect the well-being of the hospital patients with whom they come in contact. Little wonder that so much energy is being spent on promoting such basic procedures as hand washing.

While these people who are in the front lines of health care should certainly know better (and should have received instruction in proper hospital hygiene), what about the role of hospital administrators, associations and regulators? It seems to me that the responsibility for good practices lies, ultimately, at the top: the "oblige" of patient responsibility must balance the "noblesse" of those in authority. Mandating and monitoring change of outerwear (clean, please!) at the start of the workday, before coming in contact with hospital patients, would serve not only to protect the patients from pathogens and contaminants that lurk outdoors, but also to instill a mindset of hygiene primacy throughout the workday.

In my humble opinion.

Joanne Gucwa

Category: Open to Debate
Filed under: Disease Prevention; Flu/Infectious Diseases