Patient Safety Day came and went quietly on Thursday, once again reminding us of the need to spread awareness among patients themselves.

Infection is the big bad word for any patient. The endeavour of any care-giving set up is to minimise infections and keep the patients safe. While hospitals are increasingly spending a lot of time and money on controlling infections within, much hinges on what patients and their visitors do.

Sathya Bhama, Director of Medical Services, Apollo Hospital, says the best way to control infection in a hospital would be to restrict the number of visitors. If you must visit, however, make sure you use a hand sanitiser before touching the patient.

It is also not right for people to be belligerent about visiting patients in the ICU – “It is likely that they spread infections to seriously ill patients there, but also, they stand a chance of contracting infections.”

Flowers are a strict no-no, Dr. Bhama adds. “Flowers can make things worse for those who have infections, those who are recovering after surgery, and patients with certain conditions.” Restricting visitors is perceived to be a huge nightmare for the public hospital set up where there are thousands of patients streaming in every day.

However, R.Surendran, director, Institute of Surgical Gastroenterology and Liver, Stanley Medical College, says it is not impossible. “Once you educate the patient on the possibilities of contracting infections and assure them you will take care of the patient, they stop crowding the place.” Lessons in hygiene and sanitation have to be provided constantly to patients and their attendants to ensure that recovery is uneventful.

Somewhat similar are the challenges in a voluntary health set up, says E.S.Krishnamoorthy, honorary secretary, VHS, Adyar.

“Littering is endemic with the group that visits our hospitals. Also the concept of keeping common facilities like toilets clean after use is just not there.” Among patients itself, there are a number of instances of not conforming to instructions given by the physician, like changing dressings on time, wearing washed clothes, wound management, helping the aged to move around, and feeding new borns, to name just a few.

He believes the number of infections and re-infections can come down significantly if these simple instructions are followed.