Touchscreen tech tracks doc handwashing

Doctors and nurses love their iPads, swishing and tapping on touchscreens all day. Now there's a new technology that turns patients effectively into a touchscreen themselves, capable of detecting exactly when a clinician has made physical contact with a patient--and whether they've washed their hands before doing so.

The system, called SafeHands, is based on the touchscreen concept of capacitive touch technology. It employs a near-field monitoring sensor that reads the electrical field that runs across the surface of a patient's skin. When another person touches the patient, it disturbs this field, and that disturbance can be detected and monitored, according to physician Richard Deutsch, the system's creator, who talked with FierceMobileHealthcare this week.

The system is connected to a hand hygiene system, and when it detects patient contact, automatically checks whether the staff member has disinfected his or her hands, Deutsch explains. The system also incorporates an imaging camera that can capture an image of any clinicians who violate protocol.

The technology is largely untested to date, and isn't commercially available, according to Deutsch. Still, he's continuing to develop the system, and soon hopes to move to beta-testing in a clinical environment.

There may be some issues with using the technology in a live environment, according to Brenda Helms, infection prevention manager for The Heart Hospital - Baylor in Plano, Texas. She doesn't like the idea of the system automatically taking pictures, and notes that the patient-contact focus doesn't support all hand hygiene compliance--such as when a clinician enters the patient room, but doesn't touch the patient. In that situation, the clinician will normally have contacted the patient environment, and should still sanitize their hands, she notes.

"I'm not sure I like tagging the patient," Helms tells FierceMobileHealthcare. "I have seen technology that places a chip on the name badges of employees and sensors on the soap and alcohol dispensers that alerts when the employee passes the soap and sanitizer without using it. It will also allow me to pull a report for compliance. That I like."

For now, though, it's a truly intriguing concept in a healthcare market plagued by increasing hospital-acquired infections. We've told you recently about other bleeding-edge systems hospitals are trying to reduce HAIs, including robotic ultraviolet-light disinfecting systems, and RFID-tag systems that track exactly where and when clinicians wash their hands.

It will be interesting to see which system ultimately makes the grade with infection control officers.

To learn more:
- read the SafeHands announcement