Hospitals are employing new methods to encourage hand washing among staff, according to a New York Times article. The renewed effort to encourage hand washing can be explained by recent events such as the rise in “superbugs” and the rise in hospital acquired infections which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, cost hospitals $30 billion and lead to nearly 100,000 patient deaths per year. New Medicare laws also penalize hospitals that have high preventable infection rates by lowering the hospital’s Medicare reimbursement rate.
Some hospitals, like North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, NY, are placing motion activated cameras in the Intensive Care Unit to monitor hand washing. In another method, General Sensing inserts technology similar to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth into badges worn by hospital workers. “The badge communicates with a sensor on every sanitizer and soap dispenser, and with a beacon behind the patient’s bed. If the wearer’s hands are not cleaned, the badge vibrates, like a cellphone, so that the health care worker is reminded, but not humiliated in front of the patient.”
Studies have suggested that reasons like dry skin, emergency situations, and resistance to authority factor into explaining why hospital staffs don’t wash their hands as often as they should. Some hospitals also use reward and punishment systems for hand washing, including free pizza as a reward, or a “red card” as a penalty.
The measures seem to be working. At North Shore, hand washing rates were less than 10 percent during a 16-week preliminary period when workers knew that they were being filmed but were not informed of the results. When the hospital started reporting the rates through emails and on an electronic board, the hand washing rates jumped to 88 percent.