Using behavioural science to reduce hospital infections

A picture of a man's staring eyes and a clean, citrusy smell have been found to significantly boost hand hygiene in hospitals.

‘A picture of a man’s staring eyes and a clean, citrusy smell have been found to significantly boost hand hygiene in hospitals,’ according to a new study reported on in the European Cleaning Journal.

‘This discovery was made by a US-UK team who used insights from behavioural science in an attempt to improve hospital hand hygiene compliance.

The study was launched to address poor hand hygiene among staff and visitors in clinical environments. Researchers from Warwick Business School, Imperial College London and the University of Miami carried out a trial using psychological priming, a process where exposure to certain cues can alter behaviour without the person involved being aware of the impact of the cue.

The trial carried out at a Miami teaching hospital involved 404 healthcare workers and visitors who were observed to see whether they used hand sanitiser before entering a patient’s room. A third of the subjects were given access to an alcohol hand gel dispenser that had a photograph of a pair of eyes positioned above it; a third were exposed to a clean, citrusy smell; and the final third were the control group.

Only 15 percent of the control group used the hand sanitiser before entering the patient’s room. However, hand hygiene compliance increased by a third among the group exposed to a photograph of male eyes.

And the citrus smell had an even more positive effect on hand hygiene with 46.9 per cent of the group exposed to this aroma using the alcohol hand gel.

A photograph of female eyes proved to have little effect on the subjects with only 10 per cent of them using the sanitiser after being exposed to this cue.’

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