June 28, 2013

Hospitals seek high-tech help for hand hygiene

By Jim Salter / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Theresa Gratton, infection prevention coordinator at St. Mary's Health Center, wears a device to help remind health care workers to keep their hands clean at the hospital in Richmond Heights, Mo.

AP

Nurses using the Biovigil system at St. Mary's near St. Louis wear a badge with changeable colored lights. A doorway sensor identifies when the nurse enters a patient's room, and the badge color changes to yellow.

The nurse washes his or her hands and places them close to the badge. A sensor in the badge detects chemical vapors from the alcohol-based solution. If hands are clean, the badge illuminates a bright green hand symbol.

If the nurse fails to sanitize, the badge stays yellow and chirps every 10 seconds for 40 seconds, then flashes red. Once the flashing red starts, the nurse has another 30 seconds to wash up, otherwise the badge turns solid red, denoting non-compliance. Either way, each instance is tracked by a computer. The hospital can track each individual's compliance.

Registered Nurse Theresa Gratton has helped lead the effort toward hand cleanliness at St. Mary's. She heard about the Biovigil system in early 2012 and convinced the hospital to give it a try.

Gratton said patients are aware of the risk of infection and frequently inquire about whether caregivers have washed their hands. She said the badge relieves their anxiety.

Bill Rogers, a 65-year-old retiree recuperating at St. Mary's from back surgery and a heart scare, agreed.

"The first thing I noticed up here was the badges," Rogers said. "It is comforting for me to know their hands are clean as soon as the badge beeps and it goes from yellow to green."

St. Mary's is expanding the Biovigil system later this year to other units of the hospital and to employees other than nurses, though details are still being worked out, Gardner said. Eventually, the system may be expanded to SSM's seven other St. Louis-area hospitals, he said.

Biovigil's chief client officer, Brent Nibarger, said customers won't buy the system but will pay a subscription fee of about $12 a month per badge.

The CDC's Jernigan said the high-tech systems can only help.

"For a health care worker, keeping their hands clean is the single most important thing they can do to protect their patients," Jernigan said.

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