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Nightmare Super-Bacteria Prompts Hospitals To Track Employee Hand Hygiene

In an effort to reduce the spread of bacteria within medical facilities, hospitals are now taking considerable precautions to track staff handwashing following an early March CDC telebriefing of new superbug threatening the lives of patients and healthcare workers known as Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Hospital-acquired infections cost the industry $30 billion and cause about 100,000 patient deaths a year, and according to the CDC this new superbug is particularly dangerous for three specific reasons.

CRE are nightmare bacteria. They pose a triple threat. First, they're resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics.  Even some of our last-resort drugs.  Second, they have high mortality rates.  They kill up to half of people who get serious infections with them.  And third, they can spread their resistance to other bacteria.” stated Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

One medical center is trying to improve its rate of hospital-acquired infections by monitoring hand hygiene behaviors of employees.

A badge-like sensor tag is worn by each hospital caregiver that counts room entries and exits as well as the use of soap or sanitizer dispensers. The collected data is used to model and characterize clinician-patient interactions, providing detailed data to help monitor and modify behavior.

The sensor tags are called AgileTrac RTLS (Real-Time Location System), and were developed by GE Healthcare. RTLS tags collect up to 5,000 data points a day, compared with 700 per year with manual observation by staff. 

Impressive results were achieved as employees at the Summerville Medical Center, a 94-bed acute-care hospital in South Carolina, wear sensor tags to determine who is washing their hands before and after coming into contact with patients.

The ultimate goal of any hospital is to provide the best level of care to patients,” said Louis Caputo, CEO, Summerville Medical Center. “Our innovative culture prompted us to expand our current relationship with GE and tackle hospital acquired infections through the tracking of hand hygiene compliance. The greatest value of this technology has proven to be the data – the fact you can look at individual workflows and departments and make changes accordingly. It’s a constant reminder to put the patient first.”

Since being first rolled out in the in the spring of 2012 in the medical center's intensive care unit, use of the sensor tags have expanded to its surgery units and the emergency room.

In another method of tracking hand-washing, North Shore University Hospital on Long Island uses motion sensors to activate remote cameras that track when caregivers enter an intensive care room. The video cameras transmit the images to India, where workers for Arrowsite, a Web-based application services provider, check to see if clinicians are properly washing their hands.