A new study reported by the Vancouver Sun found that failed handwashing audits for health-care facilities within the Vancouver Island Health Authority produced “disappointing”, and “unacceptable” results, according to the head of patient safety.

According to the hand hygiene compliance audits conducted in January and February, physicians were the worst at washing their hands.  Just 18 percent of doctors washed their hands when visiting a patient, compared to the total score of 30 percent for all types of health-care workers combined.

According to Dr. Martin Wale, executive medical director of quality and patient safety, staff members need to do better.

Although the health authority improved over last year’s scores of 15 percent, there were intensive handwashing campaigns launched in the face of H1N1 influenza and the increasing number of outbreaks at various facilities.

During the one-day snapshot at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital the nurses, physicians, specialists, and housekeepers received an overall failing score of 41 percent.

Wale was concerned with some areas of the hospital in particular, including medical imaging, which received only 14 percent compliance and is used by patients from all over the hospital.

Other low scores include nine percent compliance in the surgical-recovery room and seven percent in the perinatal unit.

The 11-month outbreak of Clostridium difficile that began at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in July 2008 alerted health officials of the need to improve housekeeping and hand hygiene, among other issues, reported the Vancouver Sun.

Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority has introduced hand sanitizers throughout care facilities and launched hand hygiene education campaigns, but still “hand hygiene compliance results are unacceptable,” Wale wrote in a memorandum to staff last week.