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In the Hospital, Wash Your Hands!

This order goes to every single person who may come in contact with you. They need to scrub their paws: Before touching you. Before touching your sheets, or your water cup, or your side table, or anything else that you could conceivably touch. If they're conscientious enough to put on new rubber gloves as well, that would be marvelous. But hand washing is mandatory. This is not a joke. They should wash their hands after they touch you and before they head to the next patient.


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It's understandable that harried nurses and doctors occasionally forget to do this, but it's not acceptable. No hospital should have a room without a sink or an alcohol hand gel dispenser. No clinic or doctor's office either. Posting a sign in your room that says, "Thanks very much for washing your hands", can help. This goes for all visitors, and for you too.


If you're able to get up, wash your hands with soap and water several times a day (especially after you hug or shake hands with a visitor). Don't just do a three-second rinse; the helpful folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say you need to wash vigorously for at least fifteen seconds with soap and warm water (about the time it takes to sing the alphabet song, or "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener"), hitting your palms, the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. You could alternatively use an alcohol sanitizing gel, which will obviously be easier if you're not mobile.


The importance of hand washing to prevent infection is such a big deal that The Joint Commission came up with buttons for nurses, doctors, and other health care staff to wear that read: "Ask me if I've washed my hands." So, if you see those on your health care givers' lab coats (or even if you don't), ask away. Don't be shy about it. Unlike the bumper stickers that read, "How's My Driving? Call...", these buttons are meant to be taken a tad more seriously.


By the way, you know you should wash your hands frequently to avoid colds and other transmissible nuisances every day outside the hospital too, so here's a money-saving (and perhaps humanity-saving) tip: don't use antibacterial soap. The Food and Drug Administration found that antibacterial soap doesn't clean your hands any better than plain ol' soap. And, like unnecessary antibiotics, it [may help] create bacteria strains that are harder to kill.


Excerpted from YOU: The Smart Patient: An Insider's Handbook for Getting the Best Treatment, by permission of Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

In the Hospital, Wash Your Hands!:  Created on April 17th, 2009.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


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About Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, MD

With the success of The New York Times Bestsellers, YOU: On a Diet, YOU: The Owner's Manual, YOU: Staying Young and YOU: Being Beautiful, Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Mehmet C. Oz, MD (a regular guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show) authored YOU: The Smart Patient, in conjunction with The Joint Commission, the nation's largest accreditor of healthcare organizations. The authors teamed with The Joint Commission and Joint Commission Resources (JCR)—the not-for-profit publishing, consulting and educational affiliate of The Joint Commission—to develop the book.