A major public health problem appears to be simply that doctors in hospitals don't wash their hands often enough (link may take a while to load):
In its 2000 report “To Err Is Human,” the Institute of Medicine estimated that anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year because of hospital errors — more deaths than from either motor-vehicle crashes or breast cancer — and that one of the leading errors was the spread of bacterial infections.

While it is now well established that germs cause illness, this wasn’t always known to be true. In 1847, the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis was working in a Viennese maternity hospital with two separate clinics. In one clinic, babies were delivered by physicians; in the other, by midwives. The mortality rate in the doctors’ clinic was nearly triple the rate in the midwives’ clinic. Why the huge discrepancy? The doctors, it turned out, often came to deliveries straight from the autopsy ward, promptly infecting mother and child with whatever germs their most recent cadaver happened to carry. Once Semmelweis had these doctors wash their hands with an antiseptic solution, the mortality rate plummeted.

But Semmelweis’s mandate, as crucial and obvious as it now seems, has proved devilishly hard to enforce. A multitude of medical studies have shown that hospital personnel wash or disinfect their hands in fewer than half the instances they should. And doctors are the worst offenders, more lax than either nurses or aides.
BPS Research Digest reports a new study on the effects of mirrors on people's behaviour (emphasis mine):
People exhibit less prejudice when they're in the presence of a mirror, Dutch researchers have shown. Carina Wiekens and Diederik Stapel said this effect occurs because mirrors make us more aware of our public appearance, and therefore remind us of the need to fall in line with social norms.
This appears to be just one aspect of a more general phenomenon: It seems that people monitor themselves more closely when they can see themselves in the mirror. For example, there are studies which show that overweight people eat less when a mirror is placed in front of them.

An idea: You could place lots of mirrors in hospitals, especially in places personnel have to pass shortly before they enter situations in which hand washing is particularly important; say, a hall they have to pass before they enter the operating theatre. This seems like a pretty cheap measure, and one that is potentially life-saving.

No comments: