The Check-Up: Wash Your Hands, Doc

Hospital germs everywhere! Plus, the world's heaviest woman goes on a diet—today's health headlines.

• In the department of “things I wish I hadn’t read”: “Compliance rates for hand washing in American hospitals are only around 40 percent.” Geez. Thanks a lot, New York Times. Apparently it’s really, really hard to get doctors and nurses to wash their hands between patients, despite sign after posted sign that tells them they have to. Turns out, those signs are the problem! According to a study coming out in the journal Psychological Science, changing the wording from “Wash your hands to protect yourself” to “Wash your hands to protect your patients” might be enough to spur hospital workers to wash their hands more frequently. Sayeth the Times:

“There’s this perception among some health care providers that ‘I’m around sick people all the time and I don’t get sick very often, so my immune system is extra strong,’” said David Hofmann, an author of the study and a professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But if you go back to the Hippocratic oath that all doctors adhere to, it’s ‘First do no harm.’ So if you have a sign that says ‘Hey, look, here’s a really vulnerable person you’re about to walk in and see,’ then maybe a sign focused on that person will cue this larger core value in the physician to protect the patient.”

You can read about the researchers’ methodology over here, but here’s the takeaway: Compared with other signs, the patient-centric signage yielded a 33 percent increase in the amount of soap and disinfectant used over the course of two weeks. Hooray?

• Since we’re already on the subject, a somewhat related study of the germiness of hospital garb found out, well, some disgusting things. That white lab coat your doctor wears? Swimming in germs. Those cute scrubs with the smiley faces on them? Filthy. MSNBC reports that “more than 60 percent of health workers’ uniforms sampled by researchers tested positive for pathogens, including the germs that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections and drug-resistant infections such as MRSA.” Pardon me while I squirm a little bit.

• And now for something completely different! Did you hear about that woman a few months back who was making headlines by aiming to weigh 1,000 pounds and be the world’s heaviest woman, documenting her progress on a website that people paid to view, and becoming kinda wealthy in the process? Well. She’s going on a diet. has the story of Donna Simpson, who recently broke up with her fiancé of five years and now wants to lose weight. How? With hard work, time with a therapist—and the help of her new weight-loss blog, of course.