Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To gel or not to gel, 'tis a nurse's question.

If you have spend any time in a hospital or doctor's office you're bound to have noticed bottles of hand sanitizing gel. They seem to be everywhere these days! They are nailed on the inside and outside of rooms, bathroom, as well as entrances and exits. You are reminded to "gel in and gel out" before entering the hospital, after leaving the hospital, before and after leaving a patient's room, etc, etc. Advocates say using hand sanitizers are quicker and more effective than hand washing. There is no need to sing the birthday song (to make sure you wash for at least 15 - 20 seconds) as you use hand sanitizer. In addition, hand gels are convenient when soap and water may not be available (in the car, on a hike, or during a disaster). The occasional use here and there is great, but for us nurses if we used hand sanitizer every time we are suppose to (before and after entering a patient's room, after using gloves, before dispensing medication, and in general after any patient contact) we would use hand gel hundreds of time in an eight hour shift (forget about a 12 hour shift)! All that alcohol cannot be that great for the skin and who knows about the long-term effects on the rest of our body. Alcohol, after all, is a neurotoxin. Being able to use hand gel is a time saver, and when I'm slammed with several patients, being able to use it quickly is definitely a plus, but at what cost? Since the widespread use of hand gel is relatively new (within the last 5 to 7 years) long-term heavy use has yet to be studied. What if at the end of my 25 year career I end up with neurological effects from alcohol poisoning? No thank you. At least for me, I'll be spending the extra 30 seconds washing my hands with soap and water instead of lubing my hands with Purell.

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