Your nurse might not have washed their hands after treating the last patient. (Photo: Corbis Images)
When you seek medical attention, you assume the right procedures have been taken to make sure you receive the safest care possible. But new research has shown that assumption might be misguided.
According to a new study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, less than one in five outpatient care nurses follow the right safety procedures to prevent infection. That means more than 80 percent of the nurses you see at your doctor’s office, dentist office, ER, and more aren’t doing everything they can to prevent the spread of infection — to you, other patients, and themselves.
For the study, 231 nurses were asked to answer how often they comply with the following precautions to prevent infection:
1. I provide nursing care considering all patients as potentially contagious
2. I wash my hands after the removal of gloves
3. I avoid placing foreign objects on my hands
4. I wear gloves when exposure of my hands to body fluids is anticipated
5. I avoid needle recapping
6. I avoid the disassembling of a used needle from a syringe
7. I use a face mask when exposure to air-transmitted pathogens is anticipated
8. I wash my hands after the provision of care
9. I discard used sharp materials into sharps containers
Unfortunately, just 17.4 percent did all nine. More than 90 percent said they always wear gloves, while 70 percent said they always wear a face mask. Only 63 percent say they always wash their hands after removing gloves. And, here’s a scary fact: Not everyone washes their hands after caring for a patient — just 82 percent say they do.
Lead author and registered nurse Donna Powers, DNP, RN, tells Yahoo Health that she found there was a significant relationship between whether nurses followed the proper protocol and how susceptible they thought they were to infection, as well as how much they thought it would interfere with their ability to do their job.
Board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health those numbers are likely even lower since people tend to over-inflate their answers on survey questions.
“It is surprising that the number is that low,” he says. “We know that people don’t necessarily follow every protocol to a T, but to have the majority of people not following any of it is shocking.”
Since these nurses have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, Adalja says they’ve been taught the proper safety procedures — they’re just not doing them. “I think most of them just get lax,” he says. “People cut corners and are less mindful when they’re going about their daily job, maybe even more so in an outpatient setting.”
But it can be a problem, and even help contribute to an outbreak. “When you’re not following these types of protocols, the nurses themselves are exposed to infectious risk and they also have the ability to spark outbreaks of diseases,” Adalja says. “These are majorly important component of patient safety.”
The study also found that 24 percent of nurses falsely believing that hepatitis C is most often spread through sexual contact. It’s more often spread through blood, which Adalja says is potentially scary given that nurses regularly handle blood products and needles and may not take the proper care if they’re not aware of their risk of contracting hepatitis C.
Even not discarding needles in the proper way can cause problems — a maintenance worker can be jabbed and infected or a patient can accidentally be stuck with a needle.
So, what can you do about it? Speak up if you notice something off. “You can’t expect patients to know every infection control procedure but they can look to see if their nurse has washed their hands or where they put a needle after use,” says Adalja. “If you see something out of order, it’s worth asking.”