How IoT is Supporting Hand Hygiene Compliance & Better Patient Care

Look around any modern hospital and you’ll see machines, robotics, digital solutions, and other innovations that were nearly inconceivable not that long ago. Healthcare facilities are the ultimate proving ground for tech advances in a long list of activities that impact not just patient outcomes, but entire workflows. After all, in a place where lives are on the line, a better way to do something should always win, right?

  • New solutions for an old problem
  • Why you need the latest hand hygiene monitoring systems?
  • Why conventional methods of promoting hand hygiene don’t work

    Not always. Until recently, there was a cornerstone of healthcare good practices that seemed permanently stuck in the past when it came to technological upgrades — hand hygiene. While infection control strategies have always received priority and hand hygiene, in particular, has long been recognized as the fastest way to achieve that control, there has been very little innovation in the way the subject is approached in hospitals. 

    Connected Hospitals & Healthcare Facilities

    But this is changing. New technologies have enabled applications that allow for the tracking of staff, patients, and others in healthcare facilities. Among those applications is the ability to monitor when and where anyone being tracked has spent time at a handwashing station and, presumably, used the facilities as intended. While it may be one of the last areas of routine hospital practices to leverage technology, hand hygiene is quickly rising up the list of priorities for immediate improvement. 

    Want to learn how digital solutions can improve hand hygiene compliance in your healthcare facility? Contact our team today here.

    New solutions for an old problem

    Modern hand hygiene monitoring systems operate on simple but reliable technology based on the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) platform. Small, wearable tags that can be carried by staff send a signal to gateways that are positioned throughout the facility, especially at hand-washing stations. These gateways could, for example, be positioned inside soap dispensers or next to dedicated hand-washing sinks.

    As staff move around the hospital, their location is recorded in real-time and special records can be made when they are detected at a hand-washing station for the amount of time expected to be necessary to thoroughly wash your hands to the appropriate standard. 

    The tags can reveal, for example, if a doctor or a nurse visited a hand-washing station before and after seeing a patient. 

    This technology is the same setup that is used for asset tracking and wayfinding solutions in hospitals, and so it’s quite possible that the infrastructure for handwashing monitoring is already in place. 

    Why you need the latest hand hygiene monitoring systems?

    Let’s start with the first, most important and most obvious benefit. Better hand hygiene has been proven to reduce hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), which cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars a year and are always a top concern for patients. Reducing HAIs is mission critical for every healthcare facility and now the solution is within easy reach. There is simply no reason why HAIs transmitted by hand should be an issue anymore. 

    But the benefits of hand hygiene monitoring systems go beyond these direct results in terms of patient safety. There is huge value in simply creating a culture of compliance when it comes to the routine tasks that get overlooked in a healthcare environment, hand washing being just one of them. 

    More advantages come from the data the system gathers and the historical and statistical insights that data makes possible. Hand hygiene monitoring systems can generate reports that inform stakeholders about compliance by individuals, departments or units. Targeting those in need of improvement — and identifying those worthy of praise — is as simple as reviewing these reports. 

    Thanks to a simple deployment of sensors and tags, hand hygiene monitoring is now a quantifiable metric, just like other, more familiar hospital performance indicators. With easily accessible and automated confirmation that your staff is following the proper protocols, you can be sure that you’ve dramatically reduced one of the primary avenues of infection.

    Why conventional methods of promoting hand hygiene don’t work

    For anyone who thinks that hand hygiene protocols are easy enough to monitor and enforce through simple manual observation, let us remind you of a few things:

    • Understand the scale you’re dealing with. Even a small to medium-sized facility, there will be tens of thousands of hand-washing events every month. With so many encounters, examinations and procedures involving so many patients and staff members, it is impossible to manually observe more than a tiny percent of them. 
    • The Hawthorne Effect. When people know they are being watched, they modify their behavior to align with whatever they’re being watched for. This is the Hawthorne Effect. When hospital staff know there is someone standing and watching how often they wash their hands, the staff will comply but that will stop whenever no one is watching. Hospitals that self-report on hand washing rates based on manual observation are grossly overstating compliance. With passive but constant monitoring made possible by tracking infrastructure, you will always get completely accurate data based on what really happens, even when no one is looking. 
    •  Ineffective interventions create wasted cost and time. Even within a single facility, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all program that suits the needs of different care delivery modes and environments. Knowing where the opportunities for improvement are and being able to measure what works best can help infection prevention leaders maximize the impact of their programs on overall patient safety.
    • Nobody likes being watched. But clinical leaders want to do the best they can for their patients. Giving them data and insights in real time empowers them to manage problems instead of creating an environment where they feel hyper-scrutinized.
    • Manual observation records, but doesn’t change. By taking advantage of digital solutions for monitoring compliance with hand washing guidelines, hospitals can raise the profile of this issue and drive changes in the culture around it. Changing behavior is easier when it’s part of a larger cultural shift, something that comes with elevating hand hygiene to something worthy of a dedicated solution that monitors staff actions 24/7. It’s also easier with data, which makes it easier to educate staff and review progress on an individual basis. Even the most comprehensive manual observation won’t drive real change. Instead, it’s likely to result in a brief rise in compliance that slowly fades back to the norm as those observers return to their previous duties. solutions are superior those built on legacy systems for several reasons:

    • Scalability. Without an open standard that allows for hardware from other vendors, there is a ceiling on the potential for scaling up. 
    • Complexity caused by multiple vendors. Closed systems force you to turn to multiple vendors for different services, resulting in the need to use (and learn to use) several dashboards and organize siloed data. 
    • The need for on-site servers. Speaking of data, cloudless legacy systems need servers to support them and those servers need attention from your IT team. 
    • Long time to value. Legacy systems are likely to require professional installation, cable pulls and maintenance contracts. 

    As healthcare becomes increasingly consumer-driven, it’s important that hospitals be able to respond to customer concerns that are likely to be researched in advance in the process of selecting a facility. While every hospital has a clear interest in limiting HAIs and communicating their dedication to innovation, there is still room to differentiate based on the adoption of solutions like BLE-based hand hygiene monitoring. 

    As patients, people will judge hospitals on their outcomes and reputation but as consumers those same people expect the same attitudes toward innovation and the adoption of technological solutions that they expect from any other sector in the economy. Digital hand hygiene solutions address real issues that hospitals deal with while providing a commercial edge in the marketplace. 

    These are early days in the growth of hand hygiene systems but that means the benefits are that much greater for early adopters. Waiting until it’s a standard feature across the industry will only let HAI issues continue while you miss out on a chance to place your facility on the leading edge of innovation.  Are you thinking about solutions to improve hand hygiene in your healthcare facility? Looking for ways to reduce HAIs? Ready for the next step in your digital transformation? Let’s talk about how can help by scheduling a talk with our team today.

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