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Hey, health workers: Washing your hands is good for your patients

When it comes to motivating health workers to keep their hands clean, the best way may may be a reminder that their patients will benefit. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania's Adam Grant, PhD, a psychological scientist who suspected the message that washing hands can prevent personal illness wasn't resonating with medical professionals.

As a recent Association for Psychological Science release explains:

To test that [theory], Grant and his coauthor, David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, came up with two signs to post over dispensers for soap and hand sanitizer. One said “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.” The other said “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” They posted these signs above different dispensers in a hospital and recorded how often people washed, measuring how much soap and gel was used― and having trained observers spy on their colleagues.

The sign about patients was the winner. Healthcare professionals were much more likely to wash their hands if they were reminded that they were keeping patients safe. The patient sign increased soap and gel use by 33% per dispenser, and healthcare professionals were 10% more likely to wash their hands. The sign about personal risks did no good.

“Our findings challenge prevailing wisdom in the healthcare professions,” Grant says, “that the best way to get people to wash their hands is to scare them about their own health." Instead, his research demonstrates, you should remind them that hand-washing helps others.

Grant's paper will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Previously: Clean hands saves lives and Everything you ever wanted to know about hand hygiene
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