Handwashing is the most important and least expensive measure to prevent transmission of nosocomial infections. However, compliance rarely exceeds 40% under study conditions. Alcoholic hand disinfection (AHD) generally is used in Europe. In contrast, handwashing with medicated soap is practiced most frequently in the United States. Healthcare workers often explain the failure to comply with handwashing or AHD as due to the limited time available for this practice. We calculated a time consumption for handwashing and AHD in a representative model intensive-care unit with 12 healthcare workers, based on different compliance levels (40%, 60%, and 100%), duration of handwashing (40-80 seconds), and AHD (20 seconds). Comparing the extremes of our model, given 100% compliance, handwashing consumes 16 hours of nursing time per day shift, whereas AHD from a bedside dispenser requires only 3 hours (P=.01). We conclude that 100% compliance with handwashing may interfere with patient care and partly explains the low compliance. In contrast, AHD, with its rapid activity, superior efficacy, and minimal time commitment, allows 100% healthcare-worker compliance without interfering with the quality of patient care.
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