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Twenty Percent of Surgeons Didn't Wash Their Hands in Bathroom

Danish study observed hand hygiene gap -- at American College of Surgeons' conference.

Published: January 6, 2015

A Danish physician attending the American College of Surgeons' 2012 conference in Chicago made an unsettling discovery in the restroom: 20% of attendees didn't wash their hands after finishing their business there.

Jacob Rosenberg, MD, DSc, FACS, and colleagues observed 50 conference-goers' visits to the men's room and counted 10 who didn't wash up. "This is extremely worrying and it is not acceptable," says Dr. Rosenberg, a professor of medicine at the University of Copenhagen and surgeon at Herlev Hospital. "You could argue that hand hygiene isn't so important so long as the surgeons are just attending a conference, but if they behave in the same way in their everyday lives as medical practitioners when they're dealing with patients, there's a risk of infection."

The researchers speculated that surgeons, whose contact with patients outside the OR is often limited to short, verbal communications, may forget the hand hygiene requirements that hands-on nurses are bound to.

Less than a month later, however, the researchers attended the American Medical Writers Association's annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., and repeated their experiment. Only 1 of 50 attendees didn't wash this time. They note, though, that "the difference in the gender distribution at the 2 conferences may have distorted the results," since the ACS sample was 100% male and the AMWA sample was 40% female.

The study appeared in the Danish medical journal Ugeskrift for Læger's Christmas issue, which is known for its light-hearted research. But it has nonetheless raised concern among Denmark's medical community.

"What the surgeons are demonstrating is pure stupidity. So I really hope they don't do the same thing at their hospitals," says Dr. Rosenberg.

David Bernard

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