Hand Hygiene By The Numbers: How Many Lives Could You Save?

By Chris Hermann

Hand hygiene is the leading cause of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Period. Every major accreditation and infection control body has a statement that reflects this. If you improve hand hygiene, infections are prevented.

Despite this, many physicians and hospital leaders are surprised by the large impact hand hygiene can have. Sadly, this is nothing new; the well-established principle of hand hygiene has been known for over 150 years. Yet, despite all the body of evidence, we are still engaging in the same dialogue that frustrated Dr. Semmelweis all those years ago.

Do you know how many lives your hospital could save with an increase in hand hygiene performance? Here’s how to do the math.

First, we reviewed the 30+ published studies that looked at the association between hand hygiene and HAIs (see chart below). The median reduction in HAIs from improved hand hygiene was 45%. With more modern technologies and behavior change strategies, we are now seeing higher ranges. We have had several hospital partners recently see a decrease in the 74% – 80% range, within 6 months. But, to be conservative, we use the 45% figure below.

Hand Hygiene & HAIs


Second, we looked at the HAI mortality rate. According to the CDC, there are around 75,000 deaths from 722,000 HAIs annually in U.S. acute care hospitals, which is a 10.4% mortality rate.

Given that a typical 100 bed hospital experiences around 41 HAIs a year, if this were reduced by 45% due to improved hand hygiene, there would only be 23 HAIs. With the 10.4% mortality rate, rather than around four deaths from HAIs per year, there would be two. Two more patients get to go home to their families.

In a large health organization, a standard 2,500 bed hospital has about 661 HAIs a year. If better hand hygiene dropped this by 45%, there would be 364 HAIs instead. This represents 38 deaths per year rather than 69. Thirty-one lives would be saved in this scenario each year. Potentially more, if the reduction in HAIs was actually higher than 45%, which is what we’ve commonly seen.

How many lives could you save in your hospital? Feel free to do the math using your own HAI numbers.

Hand hygiene is serious business, but we can make it fun. If you’d like to explore how our system typically doubles hand hygiene performance rates and reduces HAIs by up to 70-80%, 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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