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Safety & quality

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene data are provided by state and territory health authorities for public hospitals and by individual private hospitals. The data are derived from audits of hand hygiene ‘moments’ that are conducted up to three times per year under the National Hand Hygiene Initiative.

Hospitals that provide information on hand hygiene report:

  1. The estimated hand hygiene rate based on the sample of ‘moments’ observed in an audit.
  2. The number of observed hand hygiene ‘moments’.
  3. The estimated rate is compared to the national benchmark and is reported as:
    • Higher than the benchmark
    • Similar to the benchmark, or
    • Lower than the benchmark.

Interim national benchmark

An interim benchmark of 70% for hand hygiene reporting on MyHospitals has been advised by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

Calculation of measures

The estimated hand hygiene rate for a hospital is a measure of how often (as a percentage) hand hygiene is correctly performed. It is calculated by dividing the number of observed hand hygiene ‘moments’ where proper hand hygiene was practised in a specified Audit Period, by the total number of observed hand hygiene ‘moments’ in the same Audit Period, and multiplying by 100. The rate is rounded to one decimal place.

Hand hygiene audits

Hand Hygiene Australia (HHA) defines the national hand hygiene auditing guidelines, sets standards of data quality used by hospitals and coordinates the National Hand Hygiene Initiative.

Audits are performed by individuals who have undergone HHA auditor training.

Hand hygiene is measured by observing a specified number of ‘moments’ (based on the number of acute inpatient beds in a hospital, or the number of procedures performed annually in a private day hospital) to determine whether health care workers carry out hand hygiene as required.

As hospital wards provide different types of health care, such as surgical care or medical care, the audit process involves selecting wards for auditing.

Some of these are categorised as high risk (e.g. intensive care units, dialysis, and high dependency units) for hand hygiene auditing purposes. HHA uses two ward selection methods:

  • Option A: high risk wards with rotation of other wards
  • Option B: high risk wards with auditing of all other wards

Reasons for unavailable data

There are a number of reasons why hand hygiene data may not appear on MyHospitals. These reasons include:

  • The hospital has fewer than 25 acute inpatient beds. Participation is voluntary for small hospitals in some jurisdictions
  • The hospital primarily provides mental health or rehabilitation care. Participation is voluntary for such hospitals
  • The hospital is a private hospital. Participation is voluntary for all private hospitals, including day hospitals
  • The hospital had fewer than 100 observed ‘moments’ for the period. Data are not reported for all of these hospitals
  • Data were not collected for this hospital for the Audit Period
  • The data have otherwise not been provided to the MyHospitals website.

Hospitals not required to provide hand hygiene data can voluntarily provide it for inclusion on the MyHospitals website. A comparison with the national benchmark is not shown for hospitals with fewer than 25 acute inpatient beds or for day hospitals with fewer than 2,000 procedures per year, or for other private hospitals with fewer than 25 acute inpatient beds.

For most hospitals where the number of observed hand hygiene ‘moments’ was fewer than 100, data are not reported. Where data are reported for these hospitals, a comparison with the national benchmark is not shown.

Hand hygiene ‘moments’

HHA’s hand hygiene ‘moments’ are based on those defined in the World Health Organization Guidelines on Hand Hygiene. Some minor modifications have been made for Australian health care conditions. A ‘moment’ is when there is a perceived or actual risk of pathogen transmission from one surface to another via a person’s hands. HHA specifies five critical ‘moments’ when hand hygiene should be performed by health care workers. The ideal is to perform hand hygiene correctly in each of these five critical ‘moments’. The five ‘moments’ are:

  • Before touching a patient
  • Before a procedure
  • After a procedure or body fluid exposure risk
  • After touching a patient
  • After touching a patient’s surroundings.

For more information on auditing, ‘moments’ and ward selection methods see the HHA ’5 moments for hand hygiene’ manualExternal link, opens in a new window.[].

Hand hygiene rate estimates and confidence intervals

Because the hand hygiene rates are based on audits from a sample of hand hygiene ‘moments’, in a sample of hospital wards the calculation is only an estimate of the true rate for that hospital, and is associated with a 95% confidence interval.

A ‘confidence interval’ is a statistical term describing the range (‘interval’) within which we can be sure (‘confident’) the true rate falls. Confidence intervals indicate the reliability of the estimated rate and are calculated using data provided by hospitals.

When only a small number of ‘moments’ are audited, the confidence interval is larger, meaning we are less sure of the true rate. When a large number of ‘moments’ are audited, the confidence interval is smaller, meaning we are more sure of the true rate.

Interpretability and comparability

States and territories commenced the National Hand Hygiene Initiative over a staggered period. Therefore, hospitals that started later may have lower rates than hospitals that started earlier.

Differences in ward selection methods may also affect comparability of the data. Some states and territories use the HHA ward selection methodologies, and some use locally modified HHA ward selection methods. The ward selection method used can sometimes change from one Audit Period to the next. In general, for public hospitals:

  • New South Wales predominantly uses HHA ward selection method Option A and B, with a range of other ward selection methods applying in about 20% of hospitals
  • Victoria uses HHA ward selection method Option A and B
  • Queensland uses a localised approach that varies between facilities. However, most public hospitals use a ward sampling method in line with Option B
  • Western Australia predominantly uses HHA ward selection method Option B
  • Northern Territory uses HHA ward selection method Option A
  • The Australian Capital Territory uses HHA ward selection method Option A
  • Tasmania uses HHA ward selection method Option A and B.