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Tracking hospital hand washing

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

A Pittsburgh infection control expert says his invention might slow the spread of germs and remind doctors about the basics of patient safety.

A hand coated with a special lotion (visible under UV light) that helps users visualize the efficacy of handwashing. Photo: / CC BY 2.0)

The device tracks how often health workers wash their hands.

Dr. Andrew Sahud calls his invention the hand hygiene-o-meter.

Sahud: Most people, if you ask them: ‘How often do you wash your hands?’ They would say: ‘Seventy to 80 percent of the time.’ But when you observe them it’s really not that high.

The tracker is the size of a pager and uses radio frequencies to count each time doctors go into a patient’s room, and how often they press the lever on a soap dispenser.

Sahud is an infectious disease expert at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital. He says doctors can dump the data into a spreadsheet and track it over time, but there are no flashing lights or alarms.

Sahud: There’s a lot of stimulation in a hospital, a lot of noises going off, a lot of beeps, and the last thing you need is another beeping thing to tell you what to do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hand washing is the most effective means to curb the spread of germs. But Sahud says on average health workers clean their hands only about 40 percent of the time.

Sahud says new doctors need better training.

Sahud: During orientation you are given about 15-minutes of discussion on infection prevention and patient safety, after that discussion they’ll talk about health benefits, and they’ll talk about parking.

Debra Runyan leads infection prevention efforts at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. She’s eager for new training technology.

Runyan: We have a Mr. Glo Germ where we let staff put lotion on their hands and see how well they’ve washed their hands. It’s a constant effort to keep people reminded to wash their hands. So when we do our programs we see compliance go up, if we haven’t done them in a month or two we see compliance drifting down.

Runyan says, right now, experts rely on secret observers to keep tabs on hand washing. She says the electronic counter could work, but she says it should be a friendly reminder, not a Big Brother.


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  • Sandy Swiss says:

    Hospitals need to improve their IT systems. A hospital is the most critical place in society in which timely response is needed. How can a hospital function if the hospital paging system is not working properly. The hospital I work in just got a new system from and our staff is very pleased. It makes working a bit less stressful and we can all use a little less stress.

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