IoT Hand Washing Tracker: Safety First

By Brian Kirkendall, vice president of product management, Digi International

Brian Kirkendall

In 1847, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis theorized that hand washing could limit the occurrence of puerperal fever among new mothers. But despite the obvious success of his proposal, he faced significant opposition from his colleagues in the medical community, many of whom flatly rejected his theory.

Of course, today more than ever, we’re acutely aware of the importance of Semmelweis’ game-changing understanding of hand washing, and we are tracking it more closely than ever before. Fortunately, our modern healthcare industry is equipped with far more than mere chlorinated lime solutions that our forefathers had in the 19th century. And the Internet of Things (IoT) is stepping in to support healthcare providers with breakthroughs that can enhance our preparedness to fight and prevent infections and mitigate the spread of contagions such as COVID-19.

Can IoT help keep us safe?

The healthcare industry has long been a careful early adopter of lifesaving and life changing innovations, so it comes as no surprise that the IoT has made steady inroads into all types of clinical settings: doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, ambulances and more. From patient-connected devices for accurate and vigilant patient care to medical equipment such as pain medication management and hygiene monitoring devices, the IoT is transforming almost every area of healthcare delivery.

The IoT’s compelling combination of compact and low-cost hardware and software creates a far-reaching impact for caregivers and patients alike in the form of improved accuracy, greater efficiency, lower costs, and enhanced health and safety.

Today, one application that’s gaining wide notice is the use of wireless technology to monitor and report on hygiene compliance in the medical industry. The implementation of wireless sensors and flexible gateways are bringing unprecedented precision, including temperature and pressure monitoring in surgical suites, monitoring cryogenic environments or something as routine – but life-saving – as hand hygiene.

A real-life use case: Sanitize your hands

We usually think hospitals are some of the most hygienic places of all. However, given the high traffic of sick people, hospitals that aren’t rigorous and vigilant can be home to greater infectious risks. Due to the number of immunocompromised patients present, hospitals face an ongoing mission-critical challenge to prevent the spread of bacteria and infectious diseases. Long before the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Clean Hands Safe Hands (CHSH) initiative recognized this importance of this issue and promulgated hand washing strategies that use wireless technology to help healthcare institutions promote health and safety.

As simple as it sounds, in a hectic environment like a healthcare facility, simple vigilance in washing hands can be the No. 1 factor in keeping medical workers and patients safer. What a better way to improve hand cleanliness than by providing hospitals with internet-connected hand-sanitizing stations?

CHSH reminds personnel when they need to sanitize their hands by tracking data and sending notifications to individuals’ supervisors, and quality teams. To create greater efficiency and accuracy, CHSH partnered with Digi International to leverage wireless communication and seamlessly gather data as healthcare providers pass by or use the stations. These sensor-activated stations identify each unique employee and record hand-hygiene events to confirm compliance and/or provide timely sanitation reminders to reduce infection risks.

Those sensors are equipped with a Digi XBee Gateway that enables the hand sanitizers to create a mesh network. Each sanitizer unit is aware of the data collected by other units, preventing unnecessary/redundant reminders for medical workers who have just sanitized their hands at a nearby location. The stations also leverage Digi Remote Manager, an application for secure asset monitoring and control. Digi Remote Manager collects all data and automatically passes it to the cloud, where it is stored for further analyses and reporting. This ensures processes are followed at the macro level, as well.

As a staff member enters and exits rooms all day long, he or she has a specific amount of time to sanitize their hands to prevent the inadvertent spread of pathogens. By paying attention to a simple but important need, CHSH supports patient and caregiver safety.

The future is connected

Reliable and secure wireless connectivity can make significant contributions to improving patient outcomes and enhancing healthcare delivery. The addition of wireless capabilities to medical devices makes critical patient information immediately available to caregivers and hospital systems. This can also improve billing accuracy, asset management, and maintenance.

The connected world is here to stay, and it is already benefitting patients, doctors, nurses and the whole heath care ecosystem. By leveraging the all the possibilities the IoT presents, we can improve treatment, speed of diagnosis and play a part in containment of something as widespread as Covid19. The IoT continues to support numerous applications, including sophisticated solutions that can not only make our lives easier, but save them as well. And that’s something Dr. Semmelweis would approve.

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