It’s okay to ask your doctor: “Did you wash your hands?”

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  • Michael Gardam says:

    I have seen “ask healthcare workers if they cleaned their hands” strategies both go horribly wrong and work very well. In my experience the deciding factor between these two outcomes is how involved the staff members who are going to be asked the hand washing question were in developing the policy in the first place.

    In settings where the organization decided that staff should be required to wear buttons saying “ask me if I’ve cleaned my hands” I have heard stories of patients getting yelled at. At a Canadian children’s hospital where the front line staff themselves came up with the buttons idea, and wearing the buttons was voluntary, it worked very well and likely contributed to the success of the hand hygiene campaign.

    Personally I feel that patients absolutely have the right to ask the question, and we absolutely should not be putting the onus on patients to look after their own safety. One simple solution is to always clean ones hands directly in front of the patient so they don’t have to ask.

  • Elizabeth Rankin says:

    I like your article and approach to consider asking professionals to wash their hands, such a simple but essential task to help prevent contaminating patients. The realty is, it is difficult to ask the professional to do their job responsibly, and part of that responsibility is to help prevent infections.

    Interestingly, I observed a notice on the wall in an exam room at University Hospital in London, that was a reminder for professionals to cleanse the stethoscope between patients. The next year I noticed it was no longer on the wall as a reminder. WHY?
    I can tell you, I’ve never had any professional cleanse the stethoscope either in a doctor’s office, a clinic setting or in a hospital!

    What is a patient to do? As a patient and a former nurse I’ll give you a suggestion based on having taken an excellent course on how to prevent infections in hospitals and much more!

    Hospital administrators need to “make a case” by “studying a case” that is, at certain times, available online and onsite in Baltimore. I recommend all staff including administration and interested patients, take the course: “The Science of Patient Safety.” It is a course that was set up by Dr. Peter Pronovost and his team at Johns Hopkins and the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety. This course will change the way you think, the way you practice, and the way patients will accept the care they receive!
    This course gave me perspective to problem-solve the issues I had when hospitalized at the time I experienced a heart attack and those I was witness to when my husband was hospitalized.

    Thanks for the good work you are doing.

    Elizabeth Rankin

    • Paul Taylor says:

      Hi Elizabeth:

      As you know, these are not easy issues. It’s important to consider different ways of dealing with them. So thanks for your suggestion. Hopefully, other health-care providers will consider taking the course, too.


  • Alice says:

    %featured%I have asked health care workers to wash their hands on three separate occasions and the responses were: 1) the nurse made a face but eventually washed her hands 2) the health care worker said to me: “I don’t like washing my hands because I have psoriasis”. 3) She became extremely defensive and told me about her work with a safety committee.%featured%

    As a patient, requesting that a health care worker wash their hands is very difficult and stressful.


Paul Taylor


Paul Taylor is a health journalist and former Patient Navigation Advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he provided advice and answered questions from patients and their families. Paul will continue to write occasional columns for Healthy Debate.

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