The Obvious—and Hidden—Benefits of RFID Hand-Hygiene Solutions

By Harold Boeck and Ygal Bendavid

They can reduce HAIs and save hospitals millions of dollars.


Health-care associated infections (HAIs) are plaguing hospitals worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that, on average, one in every 25 hospital patients will acquire an HAI. Most hospitals are aware of the relationship between hand sanitation and the transmission of germs that cause HAIs, yet they struggle to enforce hand-hygiene compliance.

Hospitals that have deployed RFID solutions that automatically monitor health-care workers’ hand-hygiene behavior and use the data to identify and address problems have increased hand-washing compliance and reduced HAIs. Yet, these obvious benefits alone may not justify the cost of such a solution.

Hospital managers must consider the hidden benefits when they determine the return on investment. Let’s examine the chain of events to see how an RFID hand-hygiene solution can impact the bottom line, based on the quality performance indicators hospitals use to measure the efficiency of their operations.

A patient who contracts an HAI will increase the expected patient length of stay. Occupying a bed for a longer period means an impact on capacity management and a reduction in hospital bed turnover rate, which results in a greater need for beds, medical staff and other assets. Reduced patient discharges per week likely impacts revenues by reducing admissions.

Hospitals also need to consider that a patient with a communicable infection could contaminate other patients and the medical staff. That would increase the probability of an outbreak, which would generate decontamination costs. In addition, they must take into account the resulting damage to the hospital’s reputation.

What’s more, U.S. hospitals stand to benefit from a financial incentive related to the Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program established in the Affordable Care Act.

When building a business case, hospital managers must link the original objective—reducing HAIs—with the related key performance indicators to assess the true ROI. Quantifying these savings will be different for each hospital, depending on the number of patients, beds and scope of the RFID implementation, as well as on previous hand-hygiene compliance rates and other variables. Nonetheless, documented experiences are convincing.

Some hospitals that have implemented hand-hygiene solutions have reported more than doubling their compliance rate performance, in some cases reaching well over 90 percent compliance, leading to an HAI reduction of more than 20 percent. Following the chain of events, these hospitals reduced patient length of stay by hundreds of days per year, which resulted in significant cost savings, sometimes reaching millions of dollars.

Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck are professors in the school of management at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and members of RFID Academia‘s research board.