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The Hunt for Killer Germs

A Canadian startup is developing a real-time locating system to track and contain hospital infections.
By Beth Bacheldor
Feb 01, 2009—Hospital-acquired infections kill thousands of people in the United States and add billions of dollars to health-care costs each year. "In Canada, these antibiotic-resistant hospital infections kill more people than car accidents, AIDS and breast cancer combined," says Niall Wallace, CEO of Infonaut, a Toronto startup that's developing a real-time locating system (RTLS) to help hospitals map, manage and contain the spread of infectious diseases.

The RTLS is designed to let hospitals identify the assets and people likely to have come in contact with a person diagnosed with a hospital-acquired infection. Tags that use either RFID or ultrasound technology are affixed to assets or worn by patients and hospital staff. A geographic information system (GIS) captures the tag reads, analyzes the data and displays the information, showing relationships, patterns and trends in the form of maps. If a patient contracts an infection, the GIS can build a comprehensive picture of how and where that infection is likely to spread.



Typically, when a patient is diagnosed with a hospital-acquired infection, the hospital conducts a systematic and costly cleaning of the entire facility. The tiny microscopic spores that spread the infection can live for days and stick to everything from wheelchairs to IV pumps, Wallace says. With Infonaut's system, the hospital can initiate a more timely response. "If you knew there were two wings in the hospital that were identified as the hot spots, you would spend a more focused time cleaning those areas," Wallace says. "This system gives you much more targeted information to try to get ahead of the bubble. Without this information, you're making decisions in a vacuum."

In February, Infonaut and the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, a Canadian nonprofit that promotes and develops information technology to foster economic growth for local businesses and communities, will begin a three-month pilot at the Sault Area Hospital. The pilot will track assets, such as wheelchairs and IV pumps, with battery-powered tags from Sonitor Technologies, a maker of an ultrasound-based indoor positioning system. Wallace says the Infonaut system will work with RFID tags as well, and he expects the company to partner with RFID vendors in the near future. "RFID enables a real-time system that captures all the tracking data," he says. "The first stage of our work is with Sonitor, but we are agnostic."
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