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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

Although the badge can be read from a distance of 5 meters, the rooms are large enough that once a worker enters a room to visit a patient, the badge ceases to be read. When the staff member begins moving back toward the door, the badge's tag is again read, and the system presumes that the worker is now leaving the patient room and must wash his or her hands again. That action is also saved in the software. IBM Research's software on its hosted server tracks employees' ID numbers but not their names. However, the hospital itself maintains a record of which worker is associated with which serial number.

When the technology for the pilot was first installed, IBM Research provided the hospital with weekly or daily reports indicating the rate of compliance for each ID number, as well as for the groups in which the corresponding individual worked. However, the software has since been modified so that managers can access that data themselves every 15 minutes, enabling the managers to then link an ID number to a particular individual and thereby view how that person has been performing while on duty. "As a manager, I want to be able to give a person feedback," Rutherford says. Rather than knowing generic results from a group after a certain period of time, he prefers to access data while the workday is still underway. "I can take someone aside and thank them for their high compliance," he explains, "or I can talk to someone if their rate is low."

As part of the test, this sanitizer dispenser, mounted inside a patient room, has been connected to an LMT sensor, consisting of a 433 MHz RFID reader for identifying hospital personnel and a 2.4 GHz mote that transmits hand-hygiene data.
When Rutherford began posting a list of ID numbers and compliance rates, he says, staff members became interested in viewing their own results and ascertaining how they measure up against coworkers. As result, those with low compliance rates have begun to increase their hand-washing behavior in an effort to raise their rates. In fact, Rutherford notes that he, too, wears an RFID badge and often checks his own compliance rates to determine how he is doing.

Ultimately, Rutherford notes, it is impossible to attribute a change in the infection rate to one specific behavior, such as hand hygiene. However, he says, the technology "increases awareness, which also increases compliance," and that should "contribute to a reduction in infection rates."

The next step could be to expand the RFID technology's deployment to additional floors, sometime in 2014. Rutherford says there are not yet any specific plans for such an expansion, so in the meantime, the hospital will continue to evaluate the current deployment's performance.

IBM Research has been designing sensor-based wireless communication systems for several years, Bermudez says. These solutions have been installed at museums, for example, to track temperature or moisture levels wirelessly.

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