Fewer medical professionals in the north are washing their hands properly.
Northern Health saw a sharp decline in its hand hygiene compliance rate between December and March, according to a report released by the Provincial Infection Control Network of British Columbia. Just 58 per cent of hospital employees were washing their hands adequately in that time period, down from 66 per cent in the previous quarter.
Deanna Hembroff, the regional manager for infection prevention and control at Northern Health and a co-chair of the provincial hand hygiene working group, said one reason for the compliance decline was an increase in monitoring in the fourth quarter by the health authority.
"We expected that we would see some fluctuation as we increased the auditing process itself at the sites," she said, noting the sample size of the audit more than doubled during the reporting period.
Although 42 per cent of workers audited weren't in compliance, it didn't mean they weren't washing their hands at all. It's possible they didn't wash their hands long enough or they could have touched the faucet after washing their hands, possibly re-contaminating themselves.
Proper hand-washing techniques are important for infection control and Northern Health plans to continue to educate both patients and staff on proper techniques.
"Although you're not ill, you can have (a microbe) on your hand and then you can touch something else in a room, then somebody can come right behind you, touch it, then that particular bacteria or virus is on their hands and then they can introduce it into their body," Hembroff said.
Northern Health is the only regional agency to actually see it's compliance rate lower now than it was at the start of the year, when the three-year study began. In the first quarter 60 per cent of clinicians were washing their hands properly and that jumped to the high of 66 per cent in the third quarter.
Northern Health has a long way to go to meet the 80 per cent compliance goal the provincial health agencies are hoping to hit over the next two years, but Hembroff said it's still a realistic target.
The provincial average in the fourth quarter was 67 per cent compliance.
"We do know that we can do much better than what we're currently doing," Hembroff said. "But if we look at the research and the literature, realistically we're actually doing better than what you see in the literature."
In addition to current education campaigns, some new online training tools are available to inform staff on how to wash their hands properly. Also, if any particular healthcare facilities are falling behind in compliance rates there are remedial training options Northern Health can employ.
Provincially, the Interior Health Authority saw the most significant gains over the past year, jumping from 46 per cent in the first quarter to 63 per cent in the fourth quarter. However, the report cautions against comparing the actual percentages in each region as some data collection methods varied.
Province-wide, nurses were much more likely (73 per cent) to use proper hand hygiene than doctors (54 per cent). Hembroff acknowledged the large gap exists, but said it's difficult to determine why it's the case.
Also medical professionals in general washed their hands properly more often after seeing a patient (76 per cent) than before contact (61 per cent).