Hospitals turn to IT to monitor employee hand washing

More than two-dozen hospitals in Alabama are turning to technology to monitor staff hand washing efforts with a goal of minimizing healthcare-associated infections. The effort--dubbed the "Putting Power into Healthcare Initiative" (PPHI)--requires that all hospitals involved install monitoring systems that feature radio-frequency badges in all patient rooms and other care-delivery areas, according to an announcement this week from Alabama Power, an electricity supplier participating in the program.

One hospital participating in the program, Birmingham-based Princeton Baptist Medical Center, conducted a seven-month study prior to this week's announcement to test the system's effectiveness. Infection rates over that time fell by 22 percent, saving the hospital more than $133,000 and reducing patient days by 159, according to the announcement.

This is not the first time a hospital has used technology to monitor hand washing. In 2009, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami installed infrared and RFID technology to collect and time-stamp employee hand washing, as well.

Other hospital systems, like Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare, have used more low-tech approaches to hand hygiene compliance. Sentara increased compliance from 77 percent to 95 percent through efforts like staff quizzes and nurse conversations with patients (encouraging patients to remind providers to wash), as well as signs posted around their hospitals reinforcing the importance of hand washing to staffers.

Meanwhile, another hospital participating in the PPHI program--Tuscaloosa-based DCH Regional Medical Center--has been using "secret shoppers" to collect hand washing information about employees, WIAT reports.

To learn more:
- read the PPHI announcement
- here's the WIAT report

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