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Handwashing Of Hospital Staff Tracked Via Device

1:24 PM, Jul 1, 2013   |    comments
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Forgetting to wash your hands can be a hazard to your health, but it can be especially dangerous for hospital employees who are around sick patients.

Hospitals have fretted for years over how to make sure doctors, nurses and staff keep their hands clean, but with only limited success. Now, some are turning to technology - beepers, buzzers, lights and tracking systems that remind workers to sanitize, and chart those who don't.

Health experts say poor hand cleanliness is a factor in hospital-borne infections that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that one of every 20 patients in U.S. hospitals gets a hospital-acquired infection each year.

"We've known for over 150 years that good hand hygiene prevents patients from getting infections," said Dr. John Jernigan, an epidemiologist for the CDC. "However, it's been a very chronic and difficult problem to get adherence levels up as high as we'd like them to be."

About 1.7 million health care-related infections occur each year nationwide, and 99,000 of these are fatal, according to Consumer Reports.

A study published in June in the Journal of Environmental Health showed that 95 percent of people are washing their hands incorrectly. To properly wash your hands, wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Make sure to scrub your fingertips, between your fingers and the back of your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you're unsure how long that is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest singing "Happy Birthday" twice.

If soap and water aren't available, you can use a at least 60 percent alcohol-based sanitizer. Rub it all over your hands until the substance is dry.

Hospitals have tried varying ways to promote better hygiene. Signs are posted in restrooms. Some even employ monitors who keep tabs and single out offenders.

Still, experts believe hospital workers wash up, at best, about 50 percent of the time. One St. Louis-area hospital believes it can approach 100 percent adherence.

Since last year, SSM St. Mary's Health Center in the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights, Mo., has been the test site for a system developed by Biovigil Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich. A flashing light on a badge turns green when hands are clean, red if they're not. It also tracks each hand-cleaning opportunity - the successes and the failures.

The failures have been few at the two units of St. Mary's where the system is being tested, the hospital said. One unit had 97 percent hand hygiene success, said Dr. Morey Gardner, the hospital's director of infection disease and prevention. The other had 99 percent success.

"The holy grail of infection prevention is in our grasp," Gardner said.

 

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