Monday, August 10, 2009

It's amazing what a simple "Thank you" will do.

I was dumbstruck (again) this morning when I read on CNNMoney that we continue to waste $3 billion every year to treat infections acquired during hospital stays. Read that again: a billion dollars, times three.

My Dad died in 2000 as a direct result of such an infection, so this issue has a very real and personal cost to me. But even before that experience, I had a professional lesson in docs-don't-wash that thoroughly shocked the ever loving pus out of me.

An assignment from Kimberly-Clark had come into my then-creative department to develop an in-hospital campaign to promote hand-washing. I admit, my first reaction was to scoff at what seemed like a clearly pedantic idea. I mean, how could a doctor, a fighter of disease and death, the father figure of good health, not know and appreciate the importance of hand-washing? Besides, I'd seen all those O.R. scenes on St. Elsewhere, where everybody's talking hook-ups and who-dunnit over lathered up forearms. Of course they had to be washing their hands.

But there, in that packet of input from K-C and the CDC was the data. According to infectious disease specialists, doctors were notorious for skipping hand-washing as they went about the normal interactions of their day. And it was in the normal course of everyday activities –not the O.R.– that so many germs get passed along.

So the challenge at hand was not to call attention to the obvious scenes of O.R. and E.R. rooms, challenging doc to scrub up, but to rethink the appeal around something much more mundane and unrecognized – the simple fact that everything you touch as you go about your day has been touched by someone else.
That was the message of a 6-poster campaign that went up at strategic points throughout participating hospitals. The kicker was the closing line of the copy, which flowed straight out of a smart bit of account planning insight into the docs' behavior. Instead of scolding, berating, castigating, or otherwise wagging a crooked finger at the reader, we closed with a kind smile and said, simply, "Thank you for washing your hands," knowing that the desire to do no harm merely needed a reminder for motivation, not a 2x4 to the forehead. And it worked. But, apparently, like anything else, it's not a behavior that sticks without continual reinforcement.

So next time you greet your doctor, before you shake hands, before you disrobe, thank her for washing her hands. Just in case. And thank you, too.

No comments: