Researchers Explore Use of Change Agents to Boost Hand Hygiene Compliance

Hand hygiene compliance can be improved by strategies fostering collaborative efforts among healthcare workers (HCWs) through change agents. However, there is limited information about how change agents shape the social networks of work teams, and how this relates to organisational culture. The objectives of this study by Lee, et al. (2019) were to describe the influence of peer-identified change agents (PICAs) and management-selected change agents (MSCAs) on hand hygiene, perception of their leadership style by peers, and the role of the organisational culture in the process of hand hygiene promotion.

This study, stratified in pre-, during, and post-intervention periods, was conducted between February 2017 and March 2018 in two wards at a tertiary care hospital in Malaysia. Hand hygiene promotion was facilitated either by PICAs (study arm 1) or MSCAs (study arm 2), and the two wards were randomly allocated to one of the two interventions. Outcomes were: 1) perceived leadership styles of PICAs and MSCAs by staff, vocalised during question and answer sessions; 2) the social network connectedness and communication patterns between HCWs and change agents by applying social network analysis; and 3) hand hygiene leadership attributes obtained from HCWs in the post-intervention period by questionnaires.

Hand hygiene compliance in study arm 1 and study arm 2 improved by from 48% (95% CI: 44–53%) to 66% (63–69%), and from 50% (44–55%) to 65% (60–69%), respectively. There was no significant difference between the two arms. Healthcare workers perceived that PICAs lead by example, while MSCAs applied an authoritarian top-down leadership style. The organisational culture of both wards was hierarchical, with little social interaction, but strong team cohesion. Position and networks of both PICAs and MSCAs were similar and generally weaker compared to the leaders who were nominated by HCWs in the post-intervention period. Healthcare workers on both wards perceived authoritative leadership to be the most desirable attribute for hand hygiene improvement.

The researchers concluded that despite experiencing successful hand hygiene improvement from PICAs, HCWs expressed a preference for the existing top-down leadership structure. This highlights the limits of applying leadership models that are not supported by the local organisational culture.

Reference: Lee YF, et al. Hand hygiene – social network analysis of peer-identified and management-selected change agents. Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control. Vol. 8, No. 195. 2019.

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