Researchers show how hand-washing protocols help decrease nursing home deaths, antibiotic use

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Nursing homes have long been a bastion of infections, experts note. But a new study finds that — by harnessing hand hygiene methods already popular in hospitals — such a notion could become a thing of the past.

Researchers concluded that implementing simple hand-hygiene protocols in nursing homes helped drop both mortality rates and the number of antibiotic prescriptions doled out, according new study results published in the February American Journal of Infection Control.

Each year, U.S. nursing homes tally upward of about 3 million infections, which are the No. 1 cause of death in this care setting. They add some $1 billion in extra healthcare costs, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

“Hand hygiene protocols have traditionally focused on acute-care settings. Our study is changing this narrative, underscoring that we can take a proven intervention practice and make it work outside of the hospital space, by specifically adapting it to long-term settings,” said Laura Temime, lead author of the study and a professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, in Paris, in a press release.

Researchers targeted 26 nursing homes in France beginning in April 2014. They implemented the intervention in half, training staffers as well as residents, visitors and outside providers. The intervention included giving all parties greater access to hand sanitizer, launching a campaign to promote hand hygiene, and forming localized work groups at each care site to pour over guidelines and educate employees.

In the yearlong study, the intervention group experienced around a 21% lower mortality rate (about 2.1 deaths per 100 residents each month, versus 2.65 in the control group). Antibiotic prescriptions also dropped nearly 14%. They fell to about five daily doses per 100 resident days from 5.8 doses in the control group.

It took as long as six months for results of the intervention to begin emerging, researchers noted, and changes did not sustain after the intervention ended.