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Smart Shoes Lead to Clean Hands

French startup MediHandTrace is providing hospitals with a system that uses RFID-tagged footwear to track whether staff members are following proper hand-hygiene protocols.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 26, 2015

French startup MediHandTrace has begun marketing a solution that employs RFID-tagged footwear to track whether hospital personnel are following proper hand-hygiene protocols.

According to the World Health Organization, seven percent of hospital patients in developed nations will contract a hospital-acquired infection (HAI), while the number is about 10 percent in developing countries (though much higher than that in some nations). In 2006, French engineer and physicist Bernard Delord started looking for technological solutions to a universal health-care problem: preventing the spread of HAIs caused by poor hand hygiene.

RFID reader antennas embedded in the floor of a patient's room track a tagged health-care worker through seven steps: at a dispenser in the hall (step 1), at the room's entrance (step 2), at a dispenser in the room (step 3) and at the patient's bedside (step 4), and then during a return in the other direction (steps 4 to 7).
Delord says he was concerned by his observation of a near absence "of hand hygiene in agro-food, as well as in hospital environments." In addition, he says, he was disturbed by the high level of deaths resulting from infections due to a lack of hand hygiene. In France, he reports, the rate of such deaths is four times higher than those resulting from vehicular accidents.

Although Delord found some solutions in use by hospitals to measure hygiene compliance, including technological ones, he found shortcomings in all of them. For example, many systems collect hand-hygiene statistics by tracking when and how often health-care workers wash their hands, but do not provide real-time feedback to the caregivers. In addition, he found that there was a fairly predictable route that health-care providers should follow as they provide care—namely, disinfecting hands outside an examining room, inside the room (after touching the door handle to the room), upon walking to the patient's bedside, and then while returning back through that process in the opposite direction.

Delord patented his idea for an RFID solution that would track all of those steps, capturing employees' movements via RFID readers and antennas in the floor. He then approached French technology company Micro BE to develop the readers and antennas, as well as the software that manages the collected RFID read data, provides analytics and issues alerts in real time. He also met with Ephygie-Hand, which provided the patent and managed the project.

North Hospital's Philippe Brouqui
The companies teamed up with the Infectious and Tropical Diseases Department of North Hospital, in Marseille, led by Philippe Brouqui, where the system was tested for three years and remains in place to this day. In the meantime, Delord, working with Micro BE and Ephygie-Hand, founded MediHandTrace to market the solution under the same name, with Delord serving as CEO. MediHandTrace is now in discussions with several hospitals around Europe, as well as in North and South America.

The company offers two versions of its MediHandTrace solution. One is the seven-step system that was tested at North Hospital, which comes with four Micro BE custom-designed high-frequency (HF) readers, each with its own antenna embedded in the floor. The seven-step system tracks an individual's presence at one of the four read zones during a staff member's visit with a patient: at a dispenser in the hall, at the room's entrance, at the second dispenser in the room, and at the patient's bedside, as well as during a return in the other direction for the final three steps. The system's configuration for each hospital would vary according to its needs, but would typically verify whether each employee used the hydro-alcoholic solution dispenser in steps 1, 3, 5 and 7—a total of four times during the visit with a patient.

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