• 1 1Institute of Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 2 3School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine, UNSW Sydney, Level 3 Samuels Building, Sydney, NSW 2052 Australia
  • 3 4Clinical Research Centre & Department of Medicine, Hospital Pulau Pinang, Georgetown, Malaysia
  • 4 2Ministry of Health, Putrajaya, Malaysia
  • 5 5Sarawak General Hospital, Kuching, Sarawak Malaysia
  • 6 6Infection Control Programme and WHO Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety, University of Geneva Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland
PMID: 31798841 DOI: 10.1186/s13756-019-0644-x


Background: Hand hygiene compliance can be improved by strategies fostering collaborative efforts among healthcare workers (HCWs) through change agents. However, there is limited information about how change agents shape the social networks of work teams, and how this relates to organisational culture. The objectives of this study were to describe the influence of peer-identified change agents (PICAs) and management-selected change agents (MSCAs) on hand hygiene, perception of their leadership style by peers, and the role of the organisational culture in the process of hand hygiene promotion.

Methods: This study, stratified in pre-, during, and post-intervention periods, was conducted between February 2017 and March 2018 in two wards at a tertiary care hospital in Malaysia. Hand hygiene promotion was facilitated either by PICAs (study arm 1) or MSCAs (study arm 2), and the two wards were randomly allocated to one of the two interventions. Outcomes were: 1) perceived leadership styles of PICAs and MSCAs by staff, vocalised during question and answer sessions; 2) the social network connectedness and communication patterns between HCWs and change agents by applying social network analysis; and 3) hand hygiene leadership attributes obtained from HCWs in the post-intervention period by questionnaires.

Results: Hand hygiene compliance in study arm 1 and study arm 2 improved by from 48% (95% CI: 44-53%) to 66% (63-69%), and from 50% (44-55%) to 65% (60-69%), respectively. There was no significant difference between the two arms. Healthcare workers perceived that PICAs lead by example, while MSCAs applied an authoritarian top-down leadership style. The organisational culture of both wards was hierarchical, with little social interaction, but strong team cohesion. Position and networks of both PICAs and MSCAs were similar and generally weaker compared to the leaders who were nominated by HCWs in the post-intervention period. Healthcare workers on both wards perceived authoritative leadership to be the most desirable attribute for hand hygiene improvement.

Conclusion: Despite experiencing successful hand hygiene improvement from PICAs, HCWs expressed a preference for the existing top-down leadership structure. This highlights the limits of applying leadership models that are not supported by the local organisational culture.

* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.