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OhioHealth Tests System for Tracking Hand-Hygiene Compliance

A trial of RFID-enabled hand-washing stations has allowed supervisors to view usage and takes steps to promote compliance, while personnel can view their own performance and that of their colleagues.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 16, 2013

Hand-hygiene compliance has become something of a competitive sport at OhioHealth's Riverside Methodist Hospital, thanks to the installation of a radio frequency identification system that monitors which staff members wash their hands and how consistently they do so, and allows them to view their own results against those of their coworkers. The system, provided by IBM Research, allows nurse managers to identify whether a particular worker has or has not complied with hand-hygiene requirements by washing hands upon entering and leaving a patient's room.

David Rutherford, the nurse manager at the hospital's trauma and intermediate care unit, says he has posted a list of the rates at which health-care personnel washed their hands as expected, along with the unique ID number of each staff member's RFID badge, enabling workers to compare their own compliance rates against those of their colleagues. Since the system was taken live as a yearlong pilot project in March 2013, Riverside Methodist—located in Columbus—has reported a compliance rate of approximately 94 percent. That contrasts with the national average of only 50 percent.

A hand-sanitizer dispenser showing some of the IBM technology responsible for tracking its usage by OhioHealth staff members
Riverside Methodist set up the trial on two separate floors, each with patient rooms that health-care personnel enter and exit regularly. One floor is dedicated to trauma and the intensive-care unit (ICU), while the other is designated for medical telemetry. Each floor houses about 33 patients.

According to Joint Commission guidelines, health-care workers should always wash their hands upon entering a patient's room, and again as they leave. This not only protects patients from exposure to any bacteria and viruses that could be on an employee's hands, but also protects that worker from any contagious infection with which he or she might come in contact while treating a patient.

Typically, hand-washing is carried out at stations that dispense sanitizing soap. Whether personnel actually wash their hands as often as recommended can be difficult to measure, however. OhioHealth's goal was to install a system to provide that measurement on a pilot basis, and to then expand the solution's use if it was found to be effective.

IBM Research's Sergio Bermudez
With the solution, the hospital has installed about 100 battery-powered wireless RFID sensors on each of the two floors. Specifically, IBM Research developed and installed what it calls low-power mote technology (LMT) sensors, consisting of 433 MHz RFID readers and 2.4 GHz motes that act as network transmitters. Each of the hospital's existing hand-washing stations was wired to an RFID sensor and mote, says Sergio Bermudez, IBM's team lead, most installed at room entrances, with others deployed in hallways or at elevators. The motes form a mesh network on each floor, which forwards information to a gateway connected to a computer that transmits the data to IBM Research's server.

Approximately 250 staff members were each provided with an active 433 MHz RFID tag (also from IBM Research) that beacons a unique ID number linked to that individual's identity, as well as the team or shift on which he or she works. Upon entering a patient room, the participating health-care worker comes within the 5-meter (16.4-foot) read range of a hand-washing station, which captures that individual's RFID badge ID. The software residing on IBM Research's server then expects the staff member to stop at the hand-washing station and press the soap dispenser. Once the dispenser has been depressed, it informs its mote device of this action, and that information is forwarded to IBM Research's server via the mesh network and gateway.

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