New research has found that approximately 20 percent of U.S. hospitals do not store alcohol-based hand sanitizer at every point of care, finds a recent study.

Researchers from Columbia University and the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed 168 hospitals throughout 42 states and Puerto Rico to ascertain rates of compliance with the WHO hand hygiene guidelines. At 77.5 percent of hospital facilities, hand sanitizer was available at entry points, treatment rooms, and patients' rooms, though around one in five hospitals did not place the same emphasis on hand hygiene. The same study found that approximately one in ten senior hospital staffers did not demonstrate a sound commitment to promoting hand hygiene within their facilities.

"When hospitals don't focus heavily on hand hygiene, that puts patients at unnecessary risk for preventable healthcare associated infections," said study co-leader Laurie Conway in a statement.

"The tone for compliance with infection control guidelines is set at the highest levels of management and our study also found that executives aren't always doing all that they can to send a clear message that preventing infections is a priority."

Indeed, healthcare-associated infections lead to around 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and cost around $33 billion to effectively treat. Study co-author Dr. Didier Pittet, director of the Infection Control Program and WHO Collaborating Center on Patient Safety, noted that hand hygiene falls to every individual healthcare worker. He believes that national and state-wide campaigns stressing the importance of hand hygiene would be instrumental in improving the rates of hand hygiene compliance in hospitals. "The survey also shows that facilities participating in the WHO global hand hygiene campaign achieved a higher level of progress," said Dr. Pittet. "While hand hygiene compliance is the responsibility of every health care worker, U.S. health care facilities would certainly benefit from coordinated national and sub-national efforts aimed at hand hygiene improvement. They would also gather innovative ideas and trans-cultural approaches by participating in global efforts such as the WHO campaign."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines around hand hygiene compliance in 2002, and the WHO released their own in 2009.

The study, titled Status of the implementation of the World Health Organization multimodal hand hygiene strategy in United States of America health care facilties, will be published in the March edition of the American Journal of Infection Control.

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