Behavioural 'nudges' increase the likelihood of healthcare staff washing their hands, study shows

Staff and visitors were more likely to wash their hands in an intensive care unit if they saw a picture of a pair of eyes or they smelt a clean citrus smell

Using ‘nudges’ such as a picture of a man’s intense staring eyes or a clean citrus smell increased the number of healthcare staff and visitors washing their hands in an intensive care unit, a study has found. 

A trial at a teaching hospital in Miami in the United States found that in a control group of 120 visitors to patient rooms, including healthcare workers, only 18 (15%) used a hand sanitizer next to the door before entering.

Hand hygiene is considered essential practice in clinical environments to prevent healthcare-associated infections, according to co-author Ivo Vlaev of Warwick Business School.

But when 124 visitors were exposed to a picture of a pair of eyes above the hand gel dispenser, there was an increase in handwashing of 33%.

For 160 visitors who were exposed to a citrus smell, nearly half (46.9%) cleaned their hands before entering the room.

Professor Vlaev said: ‘Based on these preliminary findings, we believe that further research in this area should be performed in order to better determine whether priming interventions could be a powerful tool in encouraging handwashing to improve infection rates.’ 

The study, also conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Miami, is published in Health Psychology.

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