“I just don’t want to cause fires”: The attitudes of hospital patients and staff towards patient empowerment strategies to reduce healthcare acquired infections

Holly Seale 1

Senior Lecturer, University Of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia


Introduction: Any approach promoting a culture of safety and the prevention of healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) should involve all stakeholders, including by definition the patients themselves. This qualitative study explored the knowledge and attitudes of healthcare workers and patients towards the concept of patient empowerment focused on improving infection control practices.

Methods: In-depth interviews were undertaken with patients and staff members from a surgical department of a large tertiary hospital in Sydney, Australia. Thematic analysis was conducted.

Results: There was virtually unanimous agreement amongst the participants that patients should be thought of as a ‘stakeholder’ and should have a role in the prevention of HCAI. However, the degree of responsibility and or level of system/staff-engagement that the patient could have varied across the responses. While very few of the staff members or patients interviewed had previously been exposed to the concept of empowerment, they were accepting of the idea and were surprised that hospitals had not yet adopted the concept. Staff members expressed astonishment that it has taken hospitals so long to move away from the “traditionally patriarchal model” of health care. However, they felt that a lack of hospital support, time and staffing would be key barriers to the implementation of any empowerment programs.

Conclusion: Although the WHO has recommended that patients have a role in encouraging hand hygiene as a means of preventing infection, patient engagement remains an underused method. Deep-seated public fears about individual vulnerabilities, still need to be addressed.

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