Right now (well, when I wrote this), I’m sitting in a Starbucks, typing on my laptop and using free WiFi. Ten years ago I would have never have imagined I’d be able to do this. Back then people went to Internet cafes and used dial-up service at home. Technologically, we’ve come a long way in a short time.
Unfortunately, one place we haven’t come very far is in the area of handwashing. In fact, yesterday Oct. 15 marked the annual Global Handwashing Day – a sign that we still have much work to do in the realm of hygiene.
We’re barcoding medications, using telemedicine to care for patients five states away and to keep electronic medical records. But for some reason, we can’t get it through our heads that something as low-tech as soap and water can increase patient safety and decrease infections.
Maybe hand-washing’s simplistic nature doesn’t grab people’s attention the way technology does. I admit Angry Birds is more interesting and interactive than Palmolive as is the the above short, Gangnam-style handwashing video from the UK. So why not use technology to elevate hand-washing’s importance? Well, there’s an app (and other tech tools) for that. Here are a few:
World Wash Up
What do you get when you cross Angry Birds with the movie Outbreak? No, not the Angry Bird flu. The World Wash Up game.
Sponsored by the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing, the game is meant to raise awareness that many diseases are easily prevented through handwashing with soap. By “washing away germs” from the screen, players can share facts like, “A single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria,” and “One third of the world’s population has intestinal worm infections” via social media.
Vanderbilt’s Handwashing app
In October 2009, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., began a formal process of observing staff and faculty members’ hand hygiene compliance in all clinical areas of the medical center. Trained observers, who watched healthcare workers as they entered and exited patient rooms, documented hand hygiene compliance via hand-written records. The observations had to be manually entered into a database before it could be analyzed. This caused delays in reporting of compliance.
Looking for a better way to collect and report handwashing data, the medical center’s hand hygiene committee, made up of physicians, nurses and IT specialists, created of a mobile-application for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices.
The app lets the individuals monitoring clinical areas send electronically recorded observations directly to a database for immediate processing. The committee piloted the app over three months and and is planning to launch its use across the medical center over the coming year.
SafeHands Hygiene Monitoring
SafeHands takes hygiene surveillance directly to the point of care. The system establishes an electronically monitored “clean zone” about an arm’s length from the patient. Anyone who enters the patient’s room is, probably correctly, assumed to be contaminated. When a healthcare worker enters the clean zone, sensors monitor for hygiene behavior by gathering three or more specific points of information. If a caregiver fails to go through the necessary hand hygiene action points, a warning signal is triggered and a violation of hand hygiene protocol is recorded.
SafeHands is not yet available commercially.
Putting Power into Healthcare Initiative
The Alabama initiative calls itself the first statewide effort to use a data-backed network to promote and track handwashing across multiple hospitals. The Birmingham, Ala.-based IT firm Proventix, Alabama Power and 27 participating hospitals are involved in the PPHI. Participating hospitals use Proventix’s nGage system of active communication screens and radio-frequency badges, which are tied to a data and quality compliance system, to monitor when and how often employees wash their hands.
A seven-month study at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, showed infection rates dropped 22 percent in the unit where the nGage system was installed.