Helping Protect Patients against Science Denial in Infection Prevention

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Peter Teska
Global Infection Prevention Expert
Sep 11, 2023

Rev 1 Sept 2023


During the delivery of healthcare, there is an important role for the patient to play in their own care. A wide range of studies have demonstrated that patient engagement can improve health outcomes across various situations (WHO, 2016), demonstrating that patient-centered care should be an integral part of healthcare delivery. This consideration can also be extended to the family of the patient, who similarly may play a role in the patient’s care, especially after leaving the hospital. Patient can also become involved prior to an in-patient stay. Examples include (WHO, 2016):


  • Education of patients and encouraging them to seek appropriate medical care
  • Participating in advisory committees
  • Giving patients access to their electronic medical records
  • Participating in the developed and distribution of tools, information, and educational materials
  • Participating in monitoring and updating medication and treatment plans


While there are a wide range of factors that affect the degree of patient/family involvement, the relationship with the physician is critically important in patients and family taking a more active role in their care. Thus training for physicians and other healthcare clinical staff on how to enable better patient engagement may also be appropriate.


The risk of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) while receiving healthcare has been determined to be a major negative outcome of receiving healthcare and is likely to be the most common negative outcome associated with receiving care. A recent systematic review by Hammoud (2020) of 25 studies investigated whether education of patients concerning infection prevention practices could affect patient engagement and patient outcomes.


In general, patient education on the risk of healthcare associated infections and interventions to prevent HAIs was low and rarely done post-discharge despite its obvious benefits and positive impact on health. This included a lack of educating patients on the importance of basic infection prevention practices, such as hand hygiene, which is the intervention likely to have the biggest impact on HAI prevention. This suggests an opportunity to provide better education for patients and their families on infection prevention practices.


The role of using social media in providing health information was recently discussed in a paper by Schillinger (2020). As high percentages (75%+) of the public use social media daily and increasingly rely on it for their news and health information, a lack of control of the quality of the information makes patients and their families at risk of exposure to inaccurate or misleading health information, which can negatively impact health outcomes. Trusted sources for health information are needed by the public. The recent COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the risk to public health from inaccurate health information being circulated on social media as widespread circulation of misinformation argued against vaccination, the use of masks, and recommended questionable treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin which ultimately have been shown not to improve health outcomes for COVID-19 patients.


Helping patients achieve optimal health outcomes should be evidence driven and healthcare providers should be expected to play an active role in providing accurate and timely health information to help combat the ocean of misinformation already being presented to patients. This includes addressing the importance of basic infection prevention practices, such as hand hygiene, surface hygiene, and barriers (gloves and masks) when appropriate. Health providers should consider proactive patient outreach on this and other health topics to become the preferred trusted source for health information and help prevent negative outcomes, such as HAIs.




  • Hammoud SH, Amer F, Lohner S, Kocsis B. Patient education on infection control: A systematic review. Am J of Infect Cont. 2020; 48: 1506-1515
  • Schillinger D, Chittamuru D, Ramirez AS. From “infodemics to health promotion: A novel framework for the role of social media in public health”. American Journal of Public Health. 2020; 110(9): 1393-1396.
  • World Health Organization. Patient engagement: technical series on safer primary care. 2016. Downloaded on 1 Sept 2023 from: