December 27, 2022 | 7 minute

The Key to Unlocking Improved Hand Hygiene

Medical staff sanitizing hands and arms with soap
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Table of contents:

Hand hygiene is central to improving many important metrics but remains difficult to monitor

Ask any healthcare professional about the importance of hand hygiene, and you’ll get variations on the same answer. Everyone agrees that it’s an essential part of the overall hygiene efforts of any healthcare facility. It’s one of the basics of any anti-infection protocol. It’s simply a must and everyone knows it. 

Which is strange, when you realize that getting staff to regularly follow hand hygiene programs has long been a challenge throughout the industry. Countless initiatives have started with the same goal of increasing the frequency and effectiveness of handwashing but moving the needle on this metric has met with only partial and scattered successes.

While no one reason stands out to explain this failure, hand hygiene remains a priority for hospitals and clinics and not just for obvious patient outcome reasons.

Combating hospital acquired infections (HAI) is a standard challenge across the industry and hand hygiene can be a powerful force against it. When patients acquire an HAI, the hospital is not only forced to take on more work and expend more resources, but it is typically not eligible for reimbursement of those costs from third-party payers, like Medicaid and most private insurers.

So on top of patient outcome and reputational concerns, there are real costs associated with HAIs as a result of poor hand hygiene.

How do you measure progress in hand hygiene?

This is the question that complicates efforts to improve hand hygiene in healthcare facilities. New plans and systems can be introduced, but without a baseline and relevant metrics, how do you know if you’re making progress?

There have been no conclusive studies that prove that a given improvement in hand hygiene will produce a resulting improvement in HAI rates, primarily due to the difficulty of measuring everything without technological automation. However, many peer-reviewed studies on the topic of hand hygiene have been produced and there is a clear correlation between a stronger emphasis on hand hygiene and a decrease in HAI incidents.

Ironically, the COVID pandemic helped to create ideal circumstances for a closer look at the effects of hand hygiene initiatives due to sudden greater awareness of the issue. Studies conducted during this time show the dramatically higher rates of compliance are possible and the assumed resulting decrease in HAIs is real.

The Leapfrog Group, which does research into matters of patient safety and the quality of hospital care, conducted its own study into how best to measure hand hygiene. They identified 5 key opportunities when hand washing is necessary. If a healthcare worker washes their hands during all the 5 opportunities, they are considered to be 100% compliant. If they miss any opportunity, it affects their compliance score. The compliance score is measured as Compliance % = Wash Events/Wash Opportunities *100.

Why is it so hard to improve hand hygiene compliance?

So hand hygiene is a simple process that delivers significant benefits but is hard to implement? Why should it be, given the low, almost non-existent costs on one side and valuable gains to be made on the other?

Here are a few of the most common reasons. 

    • Staff doesn’t have time. Nurses, doctors and others have higher priorities than washing their hands and are often called straight from one patient encounter to another.

    • Dispensers / sinks are in inconvenient locations. In very large facilities like hospitals, it’s difficult to place everything within convenient reach for everyone.

    • Dispensers are broken. Simple devices with moving parts, usually made of plastic and handled forcefully, are going to break eventually.

    • Dispensers are empty. With so many dispensers to monitor, it’s inevitable that some will run out well before refills are planned.

    • Enforcing any hand hygiene scheme is hard. Getting hundreds of people to follow any new rule is a challenge, even when the benefits are clear.

What about automated hand hygiene programs?

As with so many other aspects of workplace organization, automation and data have a role to play in the solution to hand hygiene challenges. However, until now, the technologies that automate the collection of compliance data have suffered from various shortcomings:

    • High cost. Dedicated tech solutions bring their own hardware infrastructure with them and require ongoing maintenance. The costs add up quickly. On top of that, a lack of good data makes it hard to demonstrate acceptable ROI.

    • Point solutions. By definition, these are solutions that address a single problem and are not scalable to other use cases. Healthcare institutions want flexible networks that can accommodate new applications, not rigid, closed infrastructures.

    • Retrospective value. These technologies collect data that can be analyzed at a later stage to improve compliance in the future but do not provide immediate feedback on missed opportunities in the present.

    • Dispenser issues ignored. Compliance is affected for a nurse even if the dispenser is broken or has no soap.

How’s hand hygiene solution is better

Our dedicated solution to improved hand hygiene leverages the power of location tracking with IoT-powered reporting and monitoring capabilities. It addresses the issue of hand hygiene while satisfying business needs and meeting technical standards expected from today’s “smart” facilities.

Here’s why partnering with to boost hand hygiene compliance and achieve better patient and business outcomes is the right path forward:

    • Flexible, scalable infrastructure. No silos here. We offer low installation costs, low maintenance costs and keep the door open to future extensions of the network to support use cases that haven’t even appeared on the radar yet.

    • Immediately benefit from the network in other ways. Our platform can be scaled to other nurse related use cases like Staff Duress and Workflow analytics on day one. Hand hygiene is still the goal, but a safer work environment and streamlined processes come with it.

    • The dispenser is not ignored.  Our solution is deeply integrated with the dispenser to provide critical service alerts:
      • When the dispenser’s battery is low
      • If the dispenser has a mechanical issue
      • Low soap/sanitizer levels

    • Focus on the dispenser raises overall awareness. Having a physical object to represent the hand hygiene campaign creates a tangible focus for the campaign and improves hand hygiene compliance

    • Locations selected by data. With insights into staff movements and workflows, it’s easy to identify the optimal locations for hand-washing stations to improve compliance rates.

    • Immediate feedback. Use our platform to send messages to stakeholders when they have not washed their hands within a defined time period.

    • Detailed reporting. Get reports on hand-washing compliance according to department, shift, location and individual.

    • Empowered staff. Nurses and other staff members are given data feedback to use for continuous improvement and compare to others.

Upgrade your hand hygiene today

The challenge of improving hand hygiene remains but modern tech solutions can answer the call in ways previous generations of solutions could not. Talk to us today about how easy it is to get started on the path to all the benefits that increased hand hygiene provides.

Read also our article: How IoT is Supporting Hand Hygiene Compliance & Better Patient Care.

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