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What is the Deal with Gloves and Hand Hygiene?

By Chris Hermann

This is one of the most common questions we get. There’s more confusion about glove usage and hand hygiene than nearly anything else – even among the most senior clinicians!

We spoke with a senior-level physician at one of our hospital partners recently. This doctor was on both the Infection Control and Quality Improvement committees at the hospital. He had used our electronic hand hygiene reminder system for two years. And he asked us why our system reminded him to clean his hands after he took his gloves off.

The answer was that our system was set up in accordance with the hospital’s hand hygiene policies and follows the recommendations from all major infection control organizations.

Here is what the World Health Organization says:

  • When an indication for hand hygiene precedes a contact that also requires glove usage, hand rubbing or hand washing should be performed before donning gloves.
  • When an indication for hand hygiene follows a contact that has required gloves, hand rubbing or hand washing should occur after removing gloves.
  • When an indication for hand hygiene applies while the health-care worker is wearing gloves, then gloves should be removed to perform handrubbing or handwashing.

Many clinicians wonder why they need to clean their hands when they’re wearing gloves. The short answer is that they need to sanitize their hands before wearing gloves because the gloves used for routine patient care are not put on in a sterile manner. Think about it – clinicians blindly reach in and grab gloves from the box and then hurry to put them on. In this process, you touch the gloves with your hands to put them on. If your hands aren’t clean, any organisms on them will be transferred to the outside of the gloves.

Clinicians must also sanitize their hands after wearing gloves because it’s very difficult to remove gloves without contaminating your hands during removal. This transfers organisms from the gloves to your skin. A recent study demonstrated that 52.9% of glove removals resulted in contaminating either skin or clothing.

Gloves are intended to protect the provider from the patient, but they do not offer protection for the patient. Performing hand hygiene both before donning and after removing gloves is the best thing you can do to protect both the patient and the provider.

If you’d like to explore how our system typically doubles hand hygiene performance rates and reduces HAIs by up to 75-80%, here’s a brief video about how it works. Or here’s a white paper on How the New Joint Commission Hand Hygiene Standards Could Impact Your Hospital.

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