Hand hygiene in emergency medical services

Jonathan Teter, Michael G. Millin, Rick Bissell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) affect millions of patients annually (World Health Organization. Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare. Geneva: WHO Press; 2009). Hand hygiene compliance of clinical staff has been identified by numerous studies as a major contributing factor to HAIs around the world. Infection control and hand hygiene in the prehospital environment can also contribute to patient harm and spread of infections. Emergency medical services (EMS) practitioners are not monitored as closely as hospital personnel in terms of hand hygiene training and compliance. Their ever-changing work environment is less favorable to traditional hospital-based aseptic techniques and education. Methods. This study aimed to determine the current state of hand hygiene practices among EMS providers and to provide recommendations for improving practices in the emergency health services environment. This study was a prospective, observational prevalence study and survey, conducted over a 2-month period. We selected participants from visits to three selected hospital emergency departments in the mid-Atlantic region. There were two data components to the study: a participant survey and hand swabs for pathogenic cultures. Results. This study recruited a total sample of 62 participants. Overall, the study revealed that a significant number of EMS providers (77%) have a heavy bacterial load on their hands after patient care. All levels of providers had a similar distribution of bacterial load. Survey results revealed that few providers perform hand hygiene before (34%) or in between patients (24%), as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Conclusion. This study demonstrates that EMS providers are potential vectors of microorganisms if proper hand hygiene is not performed properly. Since EMS providers treat a variety of patients and operate in a variety of environments, providers may be exposed to potentially pathogenic organisms, serving as vectors for the exposure of their patients to these same organisms. Proper application of accepted standards for hand hygiene can help reduce the presence of microbes on provider hands and subsequent transmission to patients and the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-319
Number of pages7
JournalPrehospital Emergency Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015


  • Hand hygiene
  • Hand washing
  • Infection
  • Infection control
  • Patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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