The touch-screen sensors of the Apple iPad have inspired the creation of a system that tracks the level of a physician's hand hygiene.
Dr. Richard Deutsch, director of Healthquest Technologies and a retired chiropractor, has received a patent for the Safe-Hands Hygiene Monitoring System, a tool that detects whether a doctor has used a hand sanitizer or washed his or her hands before touching a patient or connecting medical equipment to a patient.
"The application was developed because there is currently no means of determining contact between a patient and a caregiver or health care worker," Deutsch told eWEEK.
At least one-half of all hospital infections can be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 100,000 people die per year from hospital-acquired infections, the CDC reported.
The purpose of Safe-Hands is to determine when contact occurs between the patient and caregiver, and whether the caregiver meets the accepted standards for hygiene.
Even if a doctor's hands are clean, touching a pager or cell phone before or while seeing a patient can reinfect the physician, noted Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group.
In a Spyglass study, 79 percent of the doctors interviewed indicated they believed that mobile devices caused infection-control risks at the point of care.
"You tend to pick up your device with your gloved hands," Malkary told eWEEK. "Once the device is infected, it becomes a vector of contamination."
In addition to mobile devices, centrally located keyboards, like those on hospitals' computers on wheels (COWs) workstations, are particularly likely to collect bacteria, Malkary noted.
To create Safe-Hands, HealthQuest repurposed the capacitive-touch technology of the Apple iPhone and iPad to detect when a health care worker touches either the patient or medical devices such as a catheter or ventilator attached to the patient.
"We're taking charge-transfer technology used for detecting contact with the iPad and instead of using the iPad screen, we make the patient the screen and the health care worker the equivalent of the user's finger," Deutsch explained.
"When the health care worker touches the patient, which is the equivalent of the iPad screen, that generates an indication, and that is correlated with some Boolean logic of whether a hand sanitizer was used before contact with the patient or not."
Sensors attached to the patient or medical equipment send signals over WiFi to an iPad-like LCD screen, which displays an animated message and voice notification informing the patient of the clinician's hygiene status. The system also uses video to record hand-hygiene violations.
Although Healthquest has yet to test the prototype in an actual pilot, the company hopes to set up trials in hospitals, outpatient medical centers and long-term care facilities.
"No beta-testing or clinical trials have been initiated to date," said Deutsch. "[We're] still looking for the perfect strategic partner to assist in final design and commercialization prior to beta-testing."
While Safe-Hands could serve a need, "innovations in this product sector have almost no clinical efficacy or trials data output that demonstrates their TCO or ROI," Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, told eWEEK in an email.
"This is actually one of the first tools that can be used by administration to at least get an assessment of hygiene usage among physicians, clinicians and health professionals," said Malkary. "It's not a perfect solution, but it does give you some indication of a potential problem."
The use of a camera automatically taking pictures could be a turn-off, Brenda Helms, infection prevention manager for The Heart Hospital-Baylor in Plano, Texas, told FierceMobileHealthcare.
Malkary sees the potential for a product such as Safe-Hands to send indicators to an electronic health record (EHR) to monitor the hygiene of a patient's caregiver.
To really fight hospital-acquired infections, sensors would have to be attached to everything a doctor touches, such as door knobs, pens and paper clips, Malkary suggested.