Is this good enough?
There are very few certainties in life, but sometimes you just know one when you see it. One of those things that everyone in the world should be able to agree on, regardless of personal philosophies or beliefs, is that it's a good thing for medical professionals to keep their hands clean at work. The folks in the Maryland statehouse seem to agree with this theory, and they are willing to put $100,000 of federal money where their mouth is to back it up.
According to a recent Associated Press report, Maryland state health officials have announced a new program in medical facilities across the state to secretly monitor, and report on, the hand washing habits of doctors and nurses. The program is being funded by $100,000 in federal stimulus money. (Yes, the cash that some thought was actually meant to stimulate the economy.)
Sound a little bit like a sanitized version of some sort of Orwellian fever dream? Not to worry says Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, no one is going to be tossed into a re-education center for failing to rinse and repeat.
"This certainly is not an effort to do a gotcha," Brown told the AP. "We're better off with providers actually using proper hand hygiene than calling out those that don't, so a big component of this in every hospital will be that continual education and awareness."
The AP reported on a plan where teams will be formed at 45 of the state's 47 hospitals to "monitor their colleagues after they leave a patient. The monitors will be given time separate from their regular duties to do the research, but they won't let the doctors and nurses know when they're being watched." ("Hey, Doc, funny bumping into you here. Yeah, yeah, third time today... some coincidence, eh?")
If all of this sounds a bit like spying to you, that's probably because on some level (ok, on every level) it is. The information gathered by the "monitors" will be compiled in a report due out early next year detailing hospital sanitation standards across the land of lake trout. Now, doesn't that sound like some riveting beachside reading? A government funded report on the hand washing habits of candy stripers...move over Dan Brown.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, infections caught in health care facilities are one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. These infections account for about $30 billion a year in attendant healthcare costs. With the healthcare debate currently raging like it is, that is not a figure to sneeze at. (Like you could think of a better figure of speech.)
The director of Maryland's medical society, MedChi, seems to be on board with the plan. "If it was being mandated without discussion then that would be a different story," Gene Ransom told the AP. "But that is clearly not the case here."
At the end of the day, this does seem to be a relatively low cost/high reward proposition for Maryland. The program is being funded by $100,000 of a $1.2 million federal stimulus windfall provided to the state by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...hardly an overwhelming figure in the grand scheme. If the initial investment ends up saving the state millions of dollars in the long run, not to mention the health (and maybe lives) of more than a few residents, then it would have to be worth it.
Of course the possibility still exists that it can end up being something of a sunk cost, in which case the state can just use all its newly acquired information on filthy handed doctors and nurses to fuel a highly lucrative extortion scheme. That boys and girls, is what we call a "win/win."