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RFID-based Hand-Hygiene System Prevents Health-care Acquired Infections

At Princeton Baptist Medical Center, RFID-enabled hand-washing stations not only track usage, but also provide display messages to educate or entertain staff members while they sanitize their hands.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 10, 2010Princeton Baptist Medical Center, in Birmingham, Al., reports that it has seen a 36 percent reduction in patient visit time resulting from a health-care acquired infection (HCAI) since it began employing an RFID-based hand-washing compliance system in February 2010. That equates to 125 fewer bed days since February in which patients were hospitalized for infections gained while receiving treatment at the facility. The system, known as nGage, was provided by Proventix, with Synapse Technologies providing and installing customized readers and tags that operate at 2.4 GHz and utilize the IEEE 802.15.4 (ZigBee) specification.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 5 and 15 percent of people in developed nations who are admitted to a hospital end up with an HCAI, and end up requiring treatment for the infection they acquired during their stay. That statistic was part of the inspiration behind Proventix's hand-hygiene solution, intended to increase hand-washing compliance for health-care staff members without otherwise disrupting their normal hospital activities. The company began developing the system three years ago. In December 2009, its CEO, Harvey Nix, was coaching a football game after a local newspaper had covered the firm and its mission, and a player's parent—an anesthesiologist at Princeton Baptist—approached him to learn more about the technology. Soon, Nix and the hospital's management began developing a plan to launch the hand-hygiene solution on one floor of the facility.

Each nGage hand-washing station includes a screen for displaying messages.
"This was almost a no-brainer," says Paula Davenport, Princeton Baptist Medical Center's director of surgical services. "As we all know, hand washing is one of the primary ways to prevent the spread of infections." Since the system was installed, she notes, "We definitely have seen an improvement in infection rates."

During the past few years, other hand-hygiene systems using RFID have been developed and commercially introduced (see RFID Debuts as Hand-Washing Compliance Officer and Patient-Safety Center Tests RFID-enabled Hand Sanitizers). Some issue alerts by pager or phone, and some produce an audible announcement to notify a health-care worker who has failed to wash his or her hands. Princeton Baptist wanted a system, however, that would be easy and enjoyable to use, rather than something that would have a punitive effect on its staff (such as embarrassing them with audible alerts). Although the Proventix system can send alerts to pagers or phones, Davenport says, the hospital wanted only to encourage workers to wash their hands, not issue an alert when they failed to do so.

The Proventix system that the hospital has installed enables a user to view messages displayed on a screen mounted above the soap or alcohol dispenser at each hand-washing station, which also contains an RFID reader. Although the medical center is initially displaying only generic information regarding the value of hand washing and its impact on diseases such as the flu, in the future, Proventix software will cause the screen to display personalized information for the dispenser user, as well as providing health-care information about the patient who may be in the room in which that dispenser is located. (For example: "Alert: Patient is a fall risk.") If a user is a physician with an interest in updates specific to certain medical regulations, for instance, that is what he or she will see on the display. What's more, CNN headlines or sports results could be provided as well, if so requested. ("Lakers beat Suns 122-108 in 2 OT to clinch Pacific division.") In addition, if the employee is visiting a patient in that person's room, he or she can see details about the patient's lab results or other medical details while washing his or her hands, that can help to determine which health-care services to provide.

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