(HealthDay News) — The presence of other health care workers improves hand hygiene adherence, according to a study published in the October issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Mauricio N. Monsalve, from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and colleagues deployed a custom-built, automated, hand hygiene monitoring system to detect whether a health care worker practiced hand hygiene upon entering and exiting a patient’s room. The system also estimated the location of other health care workers with respect to health care workers entering or exiting a room. During a 10-day study period, 47,694 in-room and out-of-room hand hygiene opportunities were analyzed.

The researchers found that the observed adherence rate was 20.85% when a worker was alone (no recent health care worker contacts). However, the observed adherence was higher (27.90%; P<0.01) when other health care workers were present. The number of nearby health care workers correlated with increased adherence, but at a decreasing rate. After controlling for confounding factors, these results were consistent at different times of day and for different measures of social context.

“The presence and proximity of other health care workers is associated with higher hand hygiene rates,” the authors write. “Our results also indicate that rates increase as the social environment becomes more crowded, but with diminishing marginal returns.”

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