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‘Smart’ Devices Track Hand-Washing in Hospitals to Help Reduce Spread of Infection

System may also reveal wasted time and resources

In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its “Five Moments of Hand Hygiene” guidelines, which pinpoint five key moments when hospital staff should wash their hands: 1) before touching a patient; 2) before aseptic procedures; 3) after possible exposure to bodily fluids; 4) after touching a patient; and 5) after touching a patient’s surroundings.

But it has been difficult to track workers’ compliance with these guidelines. Administrators usually just spend a few days a month monitoring health care workers, noting hand-hygiene habits on a WHO checklist.

General Sensing — a company co-founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni Jonathan Gips and Philip Liang — is using “smart” devices to monitor hand hygiene among hospital staff and to ensure compliance with WHO guidelines. The aim, Liang says, is to help reduce the spread of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), which affected 4% of U.S. hospital patients in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Called MedSense Clear, the system revolves around a badge worn by hospital staff. The badge can tell when a worker comes near or leaves a patient’s side, and whether that worker has used an alcohol-based sanitizer or soap dispenser during those times. It also vibrates to remind workers to wash up. The badge then sends data to a base station, which pushes the data to a Web page where individuals can monitor their hand-washing and administrators can see data about overall hand-hygiene compliance among staff.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Infection and Public Health concluded that compliance with WHO hand-washing rules increased by 25% in 1 month when staff used MedSense in a 16-bed hospital unit in Bahrain. Currently, the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospital in London is studying the correlation between the MedSense system and a reduction in HAIs.

The startup company is also developing a system to monitor hospital workflow, with the aim of pinpointing areas where time and resources may be wasted by unnecessary wait times for patients.

MedSense consists of four “smart” devices –– including the badge –– that communicate with each other. Beacons installed near patients are tuned to cover small or large areas, creating a “patient zone.”

The badge knows whether the wearer has washed his or her hands because the system’s soap dispensers are designed to sense pressure when their nozzles are pressed down. If the wearer uses the dispenser, the holder sends that information to the smart badge.

When a badge-wearer enters a patient zone and has not performed hand hygiene, the badge vibrates to remind the wearer to wash up, and does so again when the wearer leaves the zone.

The system’s final component is a base station, set up near nursing stations. When workers are within 50 feet of the station, the station routes the badge’s data over the network to an online dashboard, called MedSense HQ. These stations also have 16 charging slots for the badge’s flat batteries.

In MedSense HQ, individuals can track, for instance, what times they missed washing their hands, or what times of the day they’re better at hand hygiene. Administrators can see aggregated data indicating, for instance, which units are more or less compliant with hand-hygiene protocols.

The company is also developing small radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that patients and staff wear, and ceiling-mounted transponders to track the tags in real-time as the wearers move through the “patient journey” — the waiting room, pre-procedure, procedure, and the recovery room.

General Sensing creates digital floor maps of an area being studied; patients and staff show up on the floor map as color-coded dots. This allows the startup to gather data on patient wait times, treatment patterns, and other data that may reveal wasted time and resources.

Another possible application of the system is real-time location of surplus staff, which is particularly important when there is a sudden influx of patients in one area of a hospital, Gips says.

Source: MIT; February 2, 2015.

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