Tips for proper hand hygiene for healthcare professionals
There is more to hand-washing than meets the eye. And that’s especially true if you are in the field of medicine and healthcare. Proper hand hygiene is a key tool in the prevention of infections in healthcare settings. Healthcare providers can help contribute to a safer work environment by following proper hand washing regimens.
At the American College for Medical Careers, we train our students on the proper methods for hand hygiene and the importance of preventing the spread of infections, bacteria, and viruses. Here is the run-down of the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compiled from their hand hygiene guidelines for healthcare providers.
Q: Should I use soap or hand rub?
A: The ease of hand rub can be tempting, because it’s quick and easy. However, the CDC recommends soap and water in some cases. Here’s their recommendation: If there are visible contaminants, dirt particles, or fluids on your hands, you should use soap and water. If you cannot see anything visible on your hands, then use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Q. What is the right way to use hand rub?
A: A quick dollop of hand rub as you walk down the hallway may not be enough. For it to work correctly, you must use it according to the directions. Read the label, then pump the recommended amount into the palm of one hand. Rub your hands together, and be careful to get the hand rub on all surfaces of your hands, including the areas between your fingers. Keep rubbing until your hands are completely dry.
Q: What is the right way to wash with soap and water?
A: When you were a kid, were you taught to sing the alphabet song while washing your hands? This is good advice, because a quick rinse is never enough. To wash correctly, start by wetting your hands and wrists. Read the label on the soap container, and dispense the amount recommended into one palm. Rub your hands together, making sure that the soap reaches every part of your hands, wrists, fingers, and under your fingernails. You should rub for at least 15 seconds. Next, rinse thoroughly so that all the soap and contaminants go down the drain. Then dry your hands using a sanitary paper towel. Be sure to get your hands as dry as you can. Then use the paper towel to turn off the faucet.
Q: When should healthcare workers wash their hands?
A: In healthcare settings, it’s extremely important not to pass infections from one patient to the next. That’s why there are key times to always remember to wash your hands:
- Before you have direct contact with any patient
- Before you put on gloves, if you are inserting a catheter, administering an injection, or doing anything else invasive
- After you have direct contact with a patient’s skin (even if the skin is intact)
- After you have direct contact with any body fluids, such as saliva, mucous, blood, vomit, etc.
- After you remove and throw away your gloves
Q: When should medical professionals wear gloves?
A: As you will learn in your training on universal standard precautions, gloves are necessary for some procedures but not others. Use gloves whenever you may be having contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, saliva, urine, or mucous. Remove your gloves immediately after caring for the patient and throw them away. Never re-use gloves. Always dispose of them in the waste containers specified by your employer.
Q: Are long fingernails unsanitary?
A: As a healthcare worker, it’s better not to have long fingernails, because they can create a place where germs can hide. A good rule is to keep your nails to ¼ inch or shorter.
This guide was adapted from the article “Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-care Settings” (MMWR 2002; vol. 51, no. RR-16.) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hand hygiene webpage. Visit the CDC’s hand hygiene resources for more information.
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