Lab Quality & Safety: JCAHO to Crack Down on Handwashing Shortcuts

You can preach hygiene until the cows come home but it may not be enough to get busy and distracted lab employees to wash their hands properly. In addition to undermining test integrity, effective Jan. 1, handwashing shortcuts can earn you a JCAHO citation if surveyors see them happening while visiting your lab.

What’s At Stake
Why the rule wasn’t already in the JCAHO books is a bit unclear; but what is clear is how improper hand hygiene by healthcare employees increases the risks of hospital-acquired infections. About 722,000 of such infections occurred in 2011 resulting in the death of 75,000 inpatients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the infection risks are more remote, poor employee hand hygiene also poses safety and quality risks in the lab setting.

The New Rule
Of course, JCAHO does consider hand hygiene. In 2004, it adopted a rule requiring healthcare organizations to implement a hand hygiene program and document steady improvement with CDC or World Health Organization guidelines to receive accreditation. The new handwashing program is designed to ensure that employees not just receive hand hygiene training but actually follow it in their day-to-day operations, according to JCAHO officials.

Practical Impact
From now on, JCAHO surveyors will be keeping an eye on employees at the sink and issuing a citation if they see them doing an inadequate job of handwashing before or after engaging with a patient or handling a sample. Once cited, the facility will have the burden of submitting a plan for corrective action.


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