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A green light for better hand hygiene

September 2009

Published in the September 2009 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

WHILE JUST ABOUT EVERYONE AGREES on the merits of good hand hygiene in hospitals, no one has been able to come up with a way to make sure that health care providers regularly wash up. But a new technology promises to not only remind physicians and nurses to wash their hands, but to also let patients know when that doesn’t happen.

The technology, being marketed as HyGreen, knows if a health care provider has washed up before entering a patient room. The system uses the same type of sensors found in breathalyzers to detect alcohols in the soaps and chemicals used for hand washing.

Lather up, and once the sensor “smells” the alcohols on your hands, it sends a signal to your badge. When you walk into the patient’s room, a green light goes off telling you ” and the patient “that your hands are clean. Fail to wash up, and your badge will buzz.

Richard J. Melker, MD, a professor of anesthesiology and biomedical engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville and one of the inventors of HyGreen, says the system is a surrogate for having someone directly observe health care providers washing their hands. As payers embrace the concept of “never events,” in which they refuse to pay for a list of conditions that includes certain hospital-acquired infections, he expects to see a strong demand for HyGreen.

While the product is still undergoing testing, Dr. Melker says it should start appearing in hospitals later this year. The system, which is being developed by Xhale Inc., a spinoff of the University of Florida, also provides reports on hand hygiene practices by unit and by individual providers.

Dr. Melker expects hospitals will initially use HyGreen in high-risk areas like surgical suites and ICUs, and then quickly move it out onto the floors. “Every hospital is tracking hospital-acquired infections and knows where the problem spots are,” he says.

The company hasn’t determined the cost of the HyGreen system, but Dr. Melker expects it will pay for itself within six months by reducing the incidence of costly hospital-acquired infections. “Hospitals are tracking the cost of health care acquired infections,” he says, “and many are already anticipating lost revenue due to never events.”