Hospital Takes Drastic Measures to Track Hand Hygiene

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HH-thumb1In an effort to get its doctors and nurses to wash their hands, one New York hospital has taken a Big Brother approach, Anemona Hartocollis reports in The New York Times.

She writes, “At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive-care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands.”

Although this may seem extreme, hospitals have good reason to worry about hand hygiene and how it is impacting infection-prevention rates, with CMS reporting that drug-resistant superbugs are increasing. Hospital-acquired infections now carry the hefty annual price tag of $30 billion and 100,000 patient deaths.

Furthermore, Hartocollis writes, “Studies have shown that without encouragement, hospital workers wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time that they interact with patients.”

Frankly, this sounds like second-grade stuff, but she says that hospitals are now using handwashing coaches, giving out rewards, and warning noncompliance with “red cards.”

She continues, “They are using radio-frequency ID chips that note when a doctor has passed by a sink, and undercover monitors, who blend in with the other white coats, to watch whether their colleagues are washing their hands for the requisite 15 seconds, as long as it takes to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song.”

North Shore’s Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious disease, declares, “This is not a quick fix; this is a war.”

The question is, Hartocollis wonders, why do healthcare workers even need this kind of handholding for handwashing? Why are they so lax about lathering?

She writes, “Among the explanations studies have offered are complaints about dry skin, the pressures of an emergency environment, the tedium of handwashing and resistance to authority (doctors, who have the most authority, tend to be the most resistant, studies have found).”

Philip Liang, founder of General Sensing, provider of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology to aid in hand-hygiene tracking, blamed “high cognitive load.”

He explained, “Nurses have to remember hundreds — thousands — of procedures. Take out the catheter; change four medications. It’s really easy to forget the basic tasks. You’re really concentrating on what’s difficult, not on what’s simple.”

Why do you as healthcare executives think it’s so difficult for healthcare professionals to remember hand hygiene? Would you consider using such drastic tracking tactics as the ones listed above?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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