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Are Your Doctor’s Hands Clean? This Wristband Knows

Mon, 03/25/2013 - 12:00am
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A startup called IntelligentM wants to make hospitals healthier by encouraging workers to clean their hands properly. Its solution is a bracelet that vibrates when the wearer has scrubbed sufficiently, giving employees a way to check their habits and letting employers know who is and isn’t doing things right.

Some 100,000 people a year in the United States alone die because of infections that arise from hospital visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a lot of these infections occur because doctors, nurses, and technicians don’t wash well enough. The problem has garnered more attention lately, in part because Medicare and other payers have stopped reimbursing hospitals for expenses related to treating hospital-acquired infections.

Currently, compliance with hand-washing standards is monitored mostly by supposedly secret observers who watch hospital employees as they work. “People are aware that they are being monitored and change their behavior based on that fact,” says Polly Trexler, associate director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. But this type of monitoring is labor intensive and typically happens only during the day, says Trexler.

Worse, studies find that hospital works meet proper standards around half the time or less. IntelligentM is just one of many companies trying to address this problem with technology; other solutions include dispensers that measure the amount of liquid used, chemical sensors that sniff out the presence of soap or sanitizer, and RFID-based systems that know the location of each cleaning station and whether a hospital worker has been there.

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