Innovative Technology Developed at AGH Accurately Monitors Healthcare Professionals’ Handwashing Practices, Study Shows

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Device Measures Employees’ Use of Soap or Sanitizer During Patient Interactions

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Our device is unique in that it acts like a hand hygiene pedometer. We hope this method of monitoring will eventually be embraced by the medical community as a way of increasing self-awareness and as a motivational tool.

A novel electronic device developed by an Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) physician and similar to that used in Turnpike toll booths may be an effective and practical way to monitor the hand hygiene compliance of health care workers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. The article is available online at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/iche/current.

Pioneered by Andrew Sahud, MD, Chairman of the Infection Prevention Committee at AGH, the Semmelweis Hand Hygienometer incorporates use of a pager size data receptor worn by an employee that communicates with a monitor attached to patient room entry ways and adjacent soap dispensers. The device records whether soap or a sanitizer was used as the employee entered and exited the room.

In the study, researchers compared the device’s results with information on employee hand hygiene practices obtained through direct observation. The Hygienometer was worn for four weeks by medical interns and registered nurses. The researchers found that the technology was effective, recording compliance rates similar to those assessed through direct observation.

“As hospitals and healthcare workers confront increasingly virulent strains of bacteria, there is a sense of urgency among physicians and institutions to address these complications and reduce the rates of transmission,” Dr. Sahud said. “Innovative ideas are desperately needed to improve hand hygiene compliance, reduce infection rates and save lives.”

“Our device is unique in that it acts like a hand hygiene pedometer,” said Dr. Sahud. “We hope this method of monitoring will eventually be embraced by the medical community as a way of increasing self-awareness and as a motivational tool. Our goal is to make hand hygiene habitual and automatic.”

In addition to Sahud, study authors included infectious disease specialist Nitin Bhanot, MD, MPH; hospitalist Harish Manyam, MD; medical residents Anita Radhakrishnan, MD, and Rajinder Bajwa, MD, and J. Christopher Post, MD, Ph.D., President and Scientific Director, Allegheny-Singer Research Institute.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand hygiene remains the single most effective way of stopping the spread of hospital acquired infections, yet compliance rates among healthcare professionals nationwide are generally low. Studies show that just 35-40 percent of healthcare professionals follow recommended hand hygiene protocols.

An effective system of monitoring hand hygiene and enforcing accountability by empowering healthcare providers with their own data could significantly increase hand hygiene rates, Dr. Sahud said. Further research might investigate whether the device could also be used by employees as a behavior modification tool, much as someone might use a pedometer to motivate themselves to exercise more.

The Semmelweis Hand Hygienometer uses radio frequency technology that was developed in the 1930s and now widely used in interstate highway toll collection (EZ-Pass), parking garages and retail inventory tracking.

The device is named for Ignaz Semmelweis, who in 1846 instituted hand hygiene as a means of limiting the spread of puerperal fever in Vienna.    

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