I recommend reading two inspiring pieces by Dr. Manoj Jain recently in The Washington Post and Memphis Commercial Appeal. Jain is an infectious disease physician and medical director at Tennessee’s Quality Improvement Organizations.

A few years ago, he was skeptical of hospital infection reduction—thinking hospital infections were the norm for ICU patients– until his hospital made some changes designed to eliminate hospital infections.

I was skeptical when my hospital embarked several years ago on an initiative to reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections in our intensive care unit.

What was the result of all that effort?

After two years, we saw a 50 percent decline in our ICU infection rate, with a 21 percent (or $702) reduction in cost per ICU discharge. I was no longer skeptical; in fact, I often joked, “If this trend continues, I’ll be out of a job as an infectious-disease consultant.”

Dr. Jain credits things like adopting checklists for every patient, sterile operating gowns, masks and gloves and increased teamwork and vigilance for the major decline in ICU infections at his hospital. To learn more about patient safety initiatives also led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, click here.

Jain talks about the need for hospital staff to “come clean” and adopt good hygiene practices on the job. Even though CDC research shows that proper hand hygiene can substantially cut infection rates and even eliminate them altogether, nearly 60 percent of health care workers fail to wash their hands while on duty. It’s no surprise then, that Jain has witnessed his own ICU colleagues ignore safe procedures.

Hospital workers have given several reasons for not scrubbing their hands: “not thinking about it,” “being too busy,” “having other patient needs take priority” and “not having role models.”

Maybe we need a “carrot-and-stick approach,” as Jain advocates. He is trying this in Memphis hospitals with the “Come Clean. Clean Hands Save Lives,” initiative. Similar approaches have been shown to reduce infection rates.

Saving patients’ lives can be as simple as encouraging doctors to pay more attention.