Numerous healthcare specialists don't wash their hands as frequently as they ought to according to a new study from the California-based Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

 The study discovered that hand hygiene compliance at SCVMC differed significantly when health professionals knew they were watched, versus when they were not.

"The level of hand hygiene compliance when staff did not know they were being watched was surprising," said Maricris Niles, MA, infection prevention analyst, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, California. "This study demonstrated to us that hand hygiene observations are influenced by the Hawthorne Effect and that unknown observers should be used to get the most accurate hand hygiene data."

“Hand hygiene is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of infection, and yet it can be one of the most difficult benchmarks to improve,” said Susan Dolan, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. The study is being presented at the association’s annual conference.

Inspired by a 2014 study that found emotional motivators more effective than traditional messaging, this study aimed to evoke the feeling of dirtiness in health-care workers. The images were tested many times over two months in four hospital units with the lowest rates of hand hygiene compliance.

After the images were shared, observations showed that every unit experienced at least an 11% improvement in hand-washing, and one unit increases by almost 50%.

“Hospital staff wanted to wash their hands after looking at the book and picturing similar contamination on their own skin,” said Ashley Gregory, an infection prevention specialist who co-led the project.

According to Dr. Clifford McDonald, associate director for science at the CDC, healthcare people in the intensive care unit may have to clean their hands roughly over 100 times in an eight-hour shift.

McDonald suggest patients to tell doctors and nurses to wash their hands -- even though it might feel uncomfortable to ask them.

“If we can get the patients more involved in that -- and get them to be able to speak up, that is really the main thing,” he said. “A lot of patients are nervous about that kind of thing -- that’s another culture we’re trying to change.”