An article in the U.S. News & World Report detailed a few recent studies that show hospitals are not nearly as clean as they need to be. While restaurants, cruise ships, and food processing plants are routinely inspected by state health departments, there is no government body that oversees the cleanliness of hospitals. As a result, there is no standardized practice for keeping hospitals, even operating rooms, germ-free.
A study at Boston University examined 49 operating rooms found that more than half of them had not recently been disinfected. A similar study of 20 hospitals in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. found that more than half of the surfaces that should have been disinfected before the next patient came in were still dirty.
While the Center for Disease Control has issued certain guidelines for hand-washing in a medical setting showing that improved hand-hygiene practices would help to reduce the transmission of pathogens, no generalized practice guidelines exist with regard to lab coats. A study from the University of Maryland showed that as many as 65% of physicians had not washed their lab coat in over a week, even when they knew it to be dirty. Worse still, almost 16% of the physicians said it had been about a month since they had last worn a clean coat. The constant contact with sick patients means that these doctors are picking up pathogens from some patients and delivering them to others, perpetuating illness in the hospital.
The upshot of these studies is that the solution seems to be simple. Washing hands, cleaning lab coats, and thoroughly disinfecting rooms before new patients arrive can stop the spread of bacteria. Researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that after they taught staff members to soak surfaces in disinfectant, instead of the spray and wipe method, cut the spread of Vanocomycin-Resistant Enterococci, or VRE, by nearly two-thirds.
So why are hospitals resistant to more thorough cleanings which will help their patients get better faster? It turns out that “You can only ask hospitals to do so much,” says Robert Wise, Vice President for Standards and Survey Methods for the Joint Commission, the agency that oversees hospitals. This response is ridiculous. The risk of infection in hospitals is higher than anywhere else due to the low immune systems of sick patients and the nature of the clientele.
Hospitals need to do more to protect their patients than spraying and wiping the surfaces with watered down disinfectants. Until they choose to do so, our sick loved ones will continue to be subject to infection risks and strains of bacteria that are growing increasingly resistant to treatment.