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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Sep 1;9:CD005186. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005186.pub4.

Interventions to improve hand hygiene compliance in patient care.

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School of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University, Eastgate House, Cardiff, Wales, UK.



Health care-associated infection is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Hand hygiene is regarded as an effective preventive measure. This is an update of a previously published review.


To assess the short- and long-term success of strategies to improve compliance to recommendations for hand hygiene, and to determine whether an increase in hand hygiene compliance can reduce rates of health care-associated infection.


We conducted electronic searches of the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials, PubMed, Embase, and CINAHL. We conducted the searches from November 2009 to October 2016.


We included randomised trials, non-randomised trials, controlled before-after studies, and interrupted time series analyses (ITS) that evaluated any intervention to improve compliance with hand hygiene using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR), or both.


Two review authors independently screened citations for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risks of bias for each included study. Meta-analysis was not possible, as there was substantial heterogeneity across studies. We assessed the certainty of evidence using the GRADE approach and present the results narratively in a 'Summary of findings' table.


This review includes 26 studies: 14 randomised trials, two non-randomised trials and 10 ITS studies. Most studies were conducted in hospitals or long-term care facilities in different countries, and collected data from a variety of healthcare workers. Fourteen studies assessed the success of different combinations of strategies recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to improve hand hygiene compliance. Strategies consisted of the following: increasing the availability of ABHR, different types of education for staff, reminders (written and verbal), different types of performance feedback, administrative support, and staff involvement. Six studies assessed different types of performance feedback, two studies evaluated education, three studies evaluated cues such as signs or scent, and one study assessed placement of ABHR. Observed hand hygiene compliance was measured in all but three studies which reported product usage. Eight studies also reported either infection or colonisation rates. All studies had two or more sources of high or unclear risks of bias, most often associated with blinding or independence of the intervention.Multimodal interventions that include some but not all strategies recommended in the WHO guidelines may slightly improve hand hygiene compliance (five studies; 56 centres) and may slightly reduce infection rates (three studies; 34 centres), low certainty of evidence for both outcomes.Multimodal interventions that include all strategies recommended in the WHO guidelines may slightly reduce colonisation rates (one study; 167 centres; low certainty of evidence). It is unclear whether the intervention improves hand hygiene compliance (five studies; 184 centres) or reduces infection (two studies; 16 centres) because the certainty of this evidence is very low.Multimodal interventions that contain all strategies recommended in the WHO guidelines plus additional strategies may slightly improve hand hygiene compliance (six studies; 15 centres; low certainty of evidence). It is unclear whether this intervention reduces infection rates (one study; one centre; very low certainty of evidence).Performance feedback may improve hand hygiene compliance (six studies; 21 centres; low certainty of evidence). This intervention probably slightly reduces infection (one study; one centre) and colonisation rates (one study; one centre) based on moderate certainty of evidence.Education may improve hand hygiene compliance (two studies; two centres), low certainty of evidence.Cues such as signs or scent may slightly improve hand hygiene compliance (three studies; three centres), low certainty of evidence.Placement of ABHR close to point of use probably slightly improves hand hygiene compliance (one study; one centre), moderate certainty of evidence.


With the identified variability in certainty of evidence, interventions, and methods, there remains an urgent need to undertake methodologically robust research to explore the effectiveness of multimodal versus simpler interventions to increase hand hygiene compliance, and to identify which components of multimodal interventions or combinations of strategies are most effective in a particular context.

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