How to Get Doctors to Wash Their Hands, Visual Edition

In our latest podcast “What Do Hand-Washing and Financial Illiteracy Have in Common?,” we revisited a topic we wrote about a few years back: how one hospital (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles) has tried to increase the rate of hand hygiene among its doctors. In the podcast, chief medical officer Michael Langberg regretfully reported that his doctors, like many doctors, routinely failed to wash their hands. Cedars-Sinai came up with a series of computer screensavers and posters that, along with some other creative measures, significantly jacked up the hand-hygiene rate.

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Why not install systems like Hygreen that do the monitoring? It looks to be a good design unlike many we see here today as a reminder.


It would be great if there was such a system for restaurant workers. I highly doubt that very many people follow the signs proclaiming "Employees Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning to Work" 100% of the time.


What ever happened to good ol' discipline. I work in a food manufacturing facility and if someone is caught not washing their hands (and we check), they are issued discipline. If it happens enough, you're out the door.


Discipline gets more complicated the higher up you go on the food chain. And Physicians are pretty high up ther. Dealing with a Physician making 100-500k a year isn't quite the same as dealing with a minimum wage employee who may or may not have proper immigration paperwork.

Basil White

Over and over again public health surveys rank the most cost-effective hospital procedure for reducing death and disease is getting everyone in the hospital to WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS.


Old news people.
Nothing new here at all.
Have you guys even read "The Checklist Manifesto" by world-class surgeon Atal Gawande? Where he describes years of working with World Health Organization and how 3rd world and developing nations buy into hand washing but the egos of American doctors keeps them from washing their hands?

sandeep sureka

Dear Sir,

I loved your book 'Freakonomics'. However, I had a doubt. I understand the pictures on the cover of your book except one - that of the 'chick' :)! I would be thankful if you could help me decode the same.

Warm regards,


In the compound interest question at 13:45, 2% on $100 for 5 years, I think the question is: would the account have less than, exactly, or more than $110? The $102 amount didn't seem to me a challenging figure as an answer to the question.


Your guys are doing a great community service through your podcasts! Thank you for constantly educating me.

Regarding the financial education debate - I suppose there is a middle ground here, where we could inject basic financial concepts (beyond basic math) into K-12 education ciriculum. This will at minimum provide a better foundation for people to make basic financial decisions or drive smaller cars (to use the analogy in the podcasts). In addition to this, for more complex financial advice (for ferrari's) there could a regulated counselling options that can be provided by Govt. - Private partnerships.

My $.02 suggestion.


I think you have a very good point here, and in my own thoughts I think one of the things our education system needs to provide is more practical education for youths and young adults.

I remember we learned how to write a check when I was in 5th grade. A relatively useless experiment because I wasn't going to have a checking acount for another 10 years. But that's really the type of education young people need to be provided: Life skills. They can bridge the gap between academic skills, and how they are useful in everyday life as well, particularly math.

A lot of problems in society can be traced to people who never learned how to take care of themselves. People need to learn how to save money, how to invest money how credit works as well as more rudimentary things like how to cook and feed oneself somewhere because learning it the hard way, or not learning it at all has some dire consequences. And in this day and age with many children growing up in single parent households, or households with two working parents it's unrealistic to expect that young people learn these skills anywhere other than school.

Unfortunately though, our school and education system is more concerned with the arbitrariness of standardized testing, which is likely doing no favor to the children or society as a whole.



You never defined what is financial literacy, and the comparison to "does everyone need to become a doctor?" seems faulty. No, we do not need everyone to become a doctor, and not everyone needs to be able to manage a mutual fund portfolio. But everyone needs to learn basic first aid, and everyone needs to learn basic financial literacy. First aid and basic finances teach us how to manage the every day issues, and also teach us our limits so we know when we need help.

I know how to stop someone from choking, and I know how compound interest works. I know to apply pressure to stop the bleeding and I know how to balance my checkbook. I know when my fever is over 104 F. I need to go to the doctor, and I know when I am buying a house I need to talk to a lending advisor.