The time of day when hospital workers forget to wash their hands

Researchers say the lapse may lead to thousands of infections per year

Hospital workers are less likely to wash their hands as they near the end of their shift, according to a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

For the study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania examined data on handwashing habits of more than 4,000 caregivers—mostly nurses—at 35 U.S. hospitals over a three-year period.

Study: Nurses are better at hand hygiene than doctors

They found that average compliance with handwashing procedures decreased by 8.7% from the start of a 12-hour shift to its end. And having more time off between shifts led to an increase in compliance, according to the study.

They also found a decrease in compliance when workers had increased work demands.

"Demanding jobs have the potential to energize employees, but the pressure may make them focus more on maintaining performance on their primary tasks [e.g., patient assessment, medication distribution], particularly when they are fatigued," says lead study author Hengchen Dai.

Learn about innovative handwashing programs

Based on the findings from this study and earlier research, Dai and her colleagues determined that the decrease in handwashing compliance associated with shift duration may cause an additional 600,000 infections in hospital patients each year, costing the health care system $12.5 billion per year (Preidt, HealthDay, 11/10).

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