Devices & Technology

Infection-Catchers: New Technology Combats HAIs, Tracks Potential Outbreaks

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By Christina Orlovsky, contributor 

New regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) eliminating reimbursements for hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) have health care facilities across the country cracking down on the costly—and potentially deadly—infections harbored within their walls. Thanks to new technology tools that help track infection patterns and prevent HAIs, infection control practitioners (ICPs) have extra weapons in their arsenal against infection.

Tracking the Spread with Software 
Hospital infection control practitioners have the daily responsibility of educating nurses and other staff on the importance of infection prevention, as well as keeping a close watch on potential infectious outbreaks within their facility. Such responsibilities often require these practitioners to be in two places at once, with more than one pair of eyes carefully monitoring the scene on all hospital units.

Enter computerized infection-tracking software—products such as Cardinal Health’s MedMined, Premier’s SafetySurveillor and TheraDoc’s Infection Control Assist. Armed with these in-house infection surveillance systems, ICPs are able to identify infection trends through an automated process which increases efficiency, reduces hours spent manually analyzing data and frees up time to improve hospital practices to prevent the spread of HAIs.

According to the recent report, “Infection Control: Improving Patient Care and Reimbursements,” published by Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research, hospitals employing infection control software reported “significantly increased staff efficiency, better patient outcomes and improved financial reimbursement, and report that they would never return to previous workflows.”

Steve Van Wagenen, KLAS research director and the author of the report, pointed out that, although the commonly-used software products have different models that meet the needs of different providers, they all increase efficiency for specialists in infection control. 

“Instead of having them look through the data and type it into a database, surveillance-type systems have algorithms that look at lab data and data from other areas, such as pharmacy, radiology and surgery, and flag data saying there may be an infection,” he explainsed “This way the practitioner has the time to educate nurses and do positive things to be proactive at addressing prevention.”
Van Wagenen adds that, despite currently light adoption, he sees the use of surveillance software on an upward trend.

“Infection control is not a new thing—there are a lot of homegrown things people have been using,” he said. “At this point, however, only 10 to 15 percent of hospitals are using some sort of surveillance technology, so the room for growth is big. This will continue to grow as more electronic reporting requirements come out, there continues to be a greater need to prevent infection that costs won’t cover and patient demand increases.”

Going “Green” for Hand Hygiene
The “green light means go” message is not just for traffic control; it is now being used for infection control in hospitals and other health care settings.  

An integral part of the infection-prevention education provided by ICPs is guidance on the proper hand-hygiene procedure for health care workers. While many hospitals simply rely on observation to keep track of hand-hygiene offenders, new technology allows infection control practitioners to police the practice, encouraging nurses and other hospital staff with direct patient care responsibilities to clean their hands properly—and often—in an effort to reduce the spread of infection.

HyGreen, a hand-hygiene surveillance system developed by physicians at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, employs wall-mounted sensors capable of detecting the alcohol in soap and waterless cleansing solution and monitors—in real-time—the timing of hand cleaning and patient contact. Once a nurse or other health care worker places his or her recently cleaned hands under the sensor, it activates a green light on the sensor, which also appears in a patient’s room, indicating “green” or “clean” status.

If providers have not cleaned their hands within a certain time frame before entering a patient’s room, they are reminded to do so—up to three times—by a vibration on their badge.

“We not only wanted to document when health care workers washed their hands, but also to remind them if they approached the proximity of a patient and hadn’t washed their hands,” explained Richard J. Melker, M.D., an anesthesiology professor who developed the technology with his colleagues. “We know they don’t want to intentionally spread infection, but they’re very busy and have a lot of tasks. Our system reminds them to practice good hand-hygiene habits when they forget and documents it, so that if a worker persists in not following the proper procedure, the health care system can remediate that worker.”

Melker asserts that HAIs are among the greatest problems faced by the nation’s health care system and that hospitals must take serious action to reduce the spread of infection. Hand hygiene among all hospital workers—nurses, physicians, environmental services staff—is a critical first step in preventing infection, he said, saving lives and millions of dollars.

“If better hand-hygiene practices are used, that will be one of the major ways to reduce HAIs. Everything has to be done by the book and we have all got to get on this bandwagon,” he said. “The reasons for HAIs are clear; the way to reduce them is clear; how to get everyone on the same wavelength is not so clear. What we’re doing with HyGreen is adding one tool to improve hand hygiene. While I don’t think it’s perfect, it’s a major advance.”

For more information, visit the HyGreen Web site. 

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