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Patient-Safety Center Tests RFID-enabled Hand Sanitizers

The system, designed to decrease the number of patient infections, warns health-care providers if they fail to properly wash up before treating a patient.
By Claire Swedberg
When a staff member presses the hand-sanitizing dispenser containing soap or a waterless disinfectant such as Purell, a Versus sensor installed in the dispenser activates, scans for an IR signal and then captures the tag's unique ID number. The sensor's built-in RFID tag then transmits the badge's ID number—along with the date, time and sensor tag's ID number and location—to a reader wired to a PC. There, Versus software interprets that data, links it to an employee and confirms that the individual washed his or her hands.

The system software measures the passage of time between the moment when a care provider finishes the hand-sanitizing process and that person's arrival at a patient's bed—typically, less than 20 seconds later. For the pilot, Tenarvitz says, DCC installed a Versus sensor above one patient bed, which captures the ID number on the employee's badge, then transmits that information to the reader via 433 MHz RFID. Versus software determines whether the badge owner washed his or her hands, as well as how long ago that occurred, and saves all of that data on the server. If too much time has elapsed (more than 20 seconds, for example), or if the badge owner has not washed his or her hands at all, a computer-generated voice warns the physician or nurse, by name, to go back to the sink or Purell dispenser for proper hand hygiene.

The pilot will continue for several more weeks before DCC and Jackson Memorial Hospital consider installing it in a 30-bed unit to be tested in a real health-care setting. "This is the cleanest, easiest solution available," Ali says, noting that it does not require any additional procedures by the health-care providers who use it, and that it is easy to install onto soap and Purell dispensers.

"So far, it's working fantastically," Birnbach reports, though he is still conferring with DCC and Versus on details, such as whether an audible warning would be the best alert system, or if it should use flashing lights. He says he has requested that the sensors read the IR tags at a range of 12 inches from the bed, in order to catch the problem before a physician touches a patient or the bed, by sending an alert as soon as the physician or nurse comes within close range of the bed.

"If the system works" Birnbach says, "it will be a very appropriate paradigm for changing the culture in the U.S. to washing hands appropriately" before meeting with a patient, and afterward.

In 2007, Resurgent Health and Medical introduced a system that utilizes RFID to identify each person using its hand sanitizer, and to measure how long the sanitizer was used (see RFID Debuts as Hand-Washing Compliance Officer).

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