More health data should be made public, Gaétan Barrette says

On the heels of a Radio-Canada investigation showing Quebec hospitals lag when it comes to handwashing, Gaétan Barrette says he wants to make more data public to encourage health officials to improve their practices.

Handwashing compliance data was obtained via Access to Information request

Quebec hospitals have some of the lowest rates of hand hygiene compliance in the country. (CBC)

More health data should be made public as an incentive for hospitals and health workers to improve their way of doing things, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said Thursday.

The minister's comments come one day after a Radio-Canada investigation showed that Quebec hospitals lag far behind government benchmarks for handwashing.

The handwashing data was obtained by Enquête through an Access to Information request. In most other provinces the data is public.

"Because this data might be public some day, it could be an incentive for hospital personnel to modify their way of doing things," Barrette said.

"Everyone likes to think that they're doing their best and are at the top of what they do. But I can say for myself  and for everyone that we can always improve."

Inconsistent methodologies

Although the government says the ideal rate should be 80 per cent, only 42.5 per cent of health workers wash their hands before seeing a patient, and 61.2 per cent wash after.

There are no government directives on whether the data should be public or secret, Barrette said.

He added that the health department is in the process of selecting data sets that will be "made public on a permanent basis."

Gaëtan Barrette is in favour of making more health data public by default. (CBC News)

The handwashing data for Quebec is problematic on its own: hospitals can have very different ways of auditing handwashing habits, use different sample sizes and audit different types of staff.

For example, some hospitals audit only nurses, while others include physicians and orderlies.

"Everyone should do it the same way in such a way that there are no loopholes in the evaluations," Barrette said.

"Can we standardize? Yes. Should it be public? I think so."

Without offering more specifics, Barrette said changes to handwashing standards should be seen "within the next year."

Hospitals respond

Dr. Yves Longtin, the chair of infection, prevention and control program at the Jewish General Hospital said it isn't fair to single out hospitals in a report.

The compliance rate at the Jewish averages 29 per cent before contact with a patient and 49 per cent after.

He admits that the overall provincial rate of 42 per cent before seeing a patient is not good. But he added that the target of 80 per cent was set in 2014.

"The targets are ambitious but we are getting there," he said.

Dr. Caroline Quach, head of infection control at the Montreal Children's Hospital cautions that data on hygiene compliance doesn't necessarily correlate with rates of infectious diseases in hospitals. 

"Hand hygiene should improve, I completely agree," she added.


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