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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Doctor's invention aims to reduce hospital infections

Friday, May 7th, 2010

An Allegheny General Hospital physician invented a pager-like electronic device that tracks whether hospital workers wash their hands when they enter or leave patients' rooms, a key to preventing hospital infections.

"It acts like a fancy pedometer keeping track of your hand hygiene compliance," said its inventor, Dr. Andrew Sahud, chairman of the infection prevention committee at the North Side hospital. "The final goal is to prevent infections and promote patient safety."

Effective hand hygiene -- whether by washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rubs -- is proven to reduce hospital infections that kill thousands of patients each year. Although most hospital rooms are equipped with soap and sanitizer dispensers, doctors and nurses often are too busy to remember using them, experts say. Only about 40 percent of health care workers follow recommended hand hygiene protocols, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Hospitals have a responsibility to figure out their hand hygiene compliance," said Lisa McGiffert, who directs the Safe Patient Project for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "It's always good when a hospital takes the initiative to do it. Technology can help facilitate patient safety."

The device, which fits in a worker's pocket, captures information through radio frequency monitors placed on the wall next to the patient and on soap and sanitizer dispensers. It tracks whether or not the hospital worker washed his or her hands when walking into or out of the room.

Sahud tested the device for a month as part of a small study at Allegheny General involving 14 nurses and residents. The study, published in the May issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, showed the technology could be an adequate substitute for traditional ways of monitoring hand hygiene, which is done by simple observation.

Future studies are planned to determine whether the device can improve compliance.

Sahud thinks it will. He said one of the best features of the device is that it can track a worker's hand hygiene habits over time. That feature is not meant to be used for punitive purposes; it's to educate users, he said. The data will be compiled into reports that can rank workers and motivate them to improve hand-washing habits, he said.

"Everyone talks about patient safety, but it's hard to indoctrinate people," he said. "It's not something that you'll have to wear your entire career. Interns, for example, can use it during their training, and by the time they're done, they can be used to hand hygiene without thinking about it, much in the same way you use the turn signal in your car."

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