Little more than half would feel comfortable asking their doctor to wash.
About 200 patients who had a history of MRSA or Clostridium difficile or were at high risk of contracting these infections were asked if they would remind healthcare practitioners to wash their hands.
The group also included those at risk for a central line associated blood stream infection or a surgical site infection.
Nearly all of the patients (99.5pc) believed that the practitioners were supposed to wash their hands before and after caring for patients.
Nine in 10 also believed that healthcare workers should be reminded if they forgot.
When it came to reminding them, however only 64pc felt comfortable enough to ask a nurse to wash their hands and only 54pc felt comfortable enough to ask a doctor.
Just 14pc had ever asked a healthcare worker about hand hygiene.
“Our study shows that patients have a good understanding of the importance of appropriate hand hygiene in the healthcare setting to prevent healthcare-associated infections,” said Andrew Ottum, a lead author of the study.
“What is clear is that more should be done to empower patients to feel comfortable asking their healthcare workers to wash their hands. This should be a focus of hand hygiene interventions.”
Appropriate hand hygiene includes healthcare workers washing their hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub before and after seeing a patient.
The study at the University of Wisconsin is published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology – the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.