Pilot study shows wireless monitor can increase hygiene compliance

By Molly Merrill
10:17 AM

Epidemiologists and computer scientists at the University of Iowa have successfully piloted a low-cost, green technology for automatically tracking the use of hand hygiene at hospitals.

The pilot used "Zigbee" technology, which is part of a new generation of wireless devices that require less power. A small, pager-sized badge monitors staff use of hand hygiene dispenser stations prior to entering patient rooms.

According to researchers, the monitoring system correctly identified more than 90 percent of study subjects entering and exiting patient rooms when they remained in the room for 30 seconds. When the time in the room increased to 60 seconds, the monitoring system approached 100 percent identification.

The technology behind the study was developed in collaboration with computer scientists at Iowa. Ted Herman, the lead computer scientist on the project, designed badge construction and placement of small beacons inside patient rooms and other designated locations.

"A novel part of our method is how data are recorded," Herman said, "data are recorded and processed in the badges rather than relying on a network."

The badge reports each use of the dispenser station, logging the time and length of use, date and dispenser ID number. Data from the badges can be automatically off-loaded multiple times, allowing results to be recorded and aggregated without the need for manual data entry.

The study findings suggest that there is potential for this new technology to change the behavior of healthcare workers and increase compliance.

Philip Polgreen, MD, of University of Iowa Health Care, points out that more testing in a variety of hospital settings is necessary, but that the technology offers hospitals a cost-effective option to implement automated monitoring of hand hygiene compliance in accordance with CDC guidelines.

"We know that a range of pathogens are spread from healthcare workers to patients by direct touch and that the current rates of hand hygiene compliance are suboptimal," said Polgreen. "Our new low-cost method of monitoring could potentially reduce cost while increasing compliance rates."