Health workers more motivated to wash hands for their patients than themselves

In a recent study, findings have suggested that health workers were more motivated to wash their hands using soap dispensers when reminded of the health benefits for their patients than the health benefits for themselves.

The study, by University of Pennsylvania’s Adam Grant, PhD, a psychological scientist, was conducted when he suspected the message of hand cleanliness to prevent personal illness was not hitting home.

In order to test his theory Grant and his co-author, David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, posted two different signs over different soap dispensers. The first stated: “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.” The second said, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”

It was then recorded how often people washed their hands, and how much soap was used – observers were also used to watch colleagues discreetly.

The sign stating the benefits to patients came out on top, the findings showed the patients sign increased hand washing by 33% whereas the health workers sign only saw a 10% rise in hand washing.

“Our findings challenge prevailing wisdom in the healthcare professions,” Grant says, “that the best way to get people to wash their hands is to scare them about their own health.” This research proves that actually reminding health workers about helping others has more impact.

Grant’s paper will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.