Patient Advocates

Why Won’t They Wash? 

Editor’s Note: This post was first published October 27, 2021, on the Rants of a Patient Safety Advocate blog. Ilene adds a note to say that she has collected her favorite blog posts and advocacy tips in a book. which can be ordered here.  Proceeds help support the Pulse Center for Patient Safety. Congratulations, Ilene!

I sat in the doctor’s office in the chair while the patient sat on the paper covered table waiting for the doctor.  The doctor burst through the door in her usually perky voice and said “Hi, how are you today”.

“Not happy” I told her.  She stopped, turned to me, and asked “why”?

“Because” I told her, “No one here washes their hands.”   The woman earlier who took the patients blood pressure and stuck a pulse oximeter on the patient’s finger didn’t wash.  When I asked her about washing her hands, she showed me that there is no sink in the room, and said she washes her hands outside the room.  I watched her open the door in the lobby and again in the exam room.  She touched the computer and other things with still had no intention of washing her hands before touching the patient.  So, each time she touched the patient I wiped the patient’s skin down with antibacterial wipes.  The oximeter, which she pulled out of her pocket went back in after it left the patient’s finger.  I would have liked to see it wiped down before or after or both.

Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels

The doctor said she will absolutely use the antibacterial lotion in the room. She made no excuses and did not make light of my request.  When she went to get someone in to take the patient’s blood, I asked her to send someone who washes their hands.  She said she would and promised to inform all of them that they need to wash.

I’m guessing other patients are not reminding staff to wash.  I get they might forget; it might be inconvenient but there are germs in the doctor’s office. and out of respect, don’t you think medical staff should be cleaning their hands before touching a patient?  This was the second time in a week I was in that office, and I have never seen them use the antibacterial lotion in the room.  As a courtesy to the patient, I did not say anything in the past.  At another doctor’s office last week when I asked the staff to wash, she asked me “do you want me to change my gloves too?”  I told her yes.  She did.

I am not trying to be annoying, but I am concerned that medical staff are comfortable not washing.  The basic infection prevention tool for anyone and now in the medical office, where there are known germs, someone wants to touch a patient without washing first?  This is not only about the germs that can cause infection and illness but the lack of respect.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), on average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should. And one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI).[i]

If the loss of human life doesn’t help you take this seriously, how about the cost. The overall direct cost of HAIs to hospitals ranges from US$28 billion to 45 billion[ii]   Germs don’t move themselves. Germs depend on people, the environment, and/or medical equipment to move in healthcare settings.[iii]

Germs are found in the healthcare environment. Examples of environmental sources of germs include: Dry surfaces in patient care areas (e.g., bed rails, medical equipment, countertops, and tables)[iv]

These days we know healthcare professionals are understaffed and overworked and may forget to wash their hands but its not OK and patients, their caregivers or advocates must speak up and help them remember.



Ilene Corina is president and founder of the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education and Advocacy. Corina has served on the board of organizations including The Joint Commission and the National Patient Safety Foundation and has won numerous awards for her work as an educator and advocate. Corina is the author of "Rants of a Patient Safety Advocate: Stories from the Bedside." Learn more about Corina and her work at

Ilene Corina, BCPA has 6 post(s) at

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