Protect Patients and Profit with Better Hand Hygiene

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By Melissa Berrios, RN

The American Hospital Association estimates that U.S. hospitals and health systems sufferedmore than $200 billion in expenses and lost revenue due to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic from March to June 2020. Another study estimates that healthcare facilities will face an additional $20.1 billion in losses per month through the end of the year. Healthcare administrators across the country are battling a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks while struggling to recover from the first.

While this issue is far too complex to solve with any single solution, healthcare leaders can both improve patient care and mitigate the financial impact of the virus with one relatively simple strategy: focusing on improving hand hygiene compliance within their facilities. 

The High Cost of HAIs

Hands are a known vector for infection, and the CDC, WHO, and countless health officials have emphasized the importance of good hand hygiene for slowing down the spread of COVID-19. This is especially true in healthcare facilities, where patients with the virus share space with some of our most vulnerable, non-infected populations, and where essential healthcare workers risk exposure due to the nature of their jobs. 

The impact of HAIs is significant – they cause more than 98,000 deaths annually. Along with this risk to patient safety, HAIs also pose a substantial financial threat to healthcare facilities, costing the industry an average of $10 billion per year. Healthcare leaders can decrease healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) as well as their associated costs by increasing rates of hand hygiene compliance.

And the high cost of HAIs goes beyond the cost in human life and monetary expense; hospitals with outbreaks lose the trust of their patients and their reputation takes a hit. In this climate, where patients are already fearful of going to hospitals, facilities can ill afford to develop a poor reputation in their communities.

Benefits of Automated Monitoring 

Healthcare administrators and infection preventionists (IPs) have implemented hand hygiene policies and compliance tracking procedures for decades, but not all have been equipped with the latest technology. Inside and outside of healthcare, the pandemic has increased interest in infection control and may present an opportunity for healthcare leaders to justify investments in more advanced hand hygiene tools. 

Unlike manual data collection, automated monitoring solutions are not prone to human error, manipulation, or what’s known as the Hawthorne effect — when people temporarily change their behavior because they know they are being watched. They also eliminate training and labor costs associated with manual observation. Furthermore, automated systems provide the advantage of helping direct hand hygiene polices and staff education, by highlighting both strengths and weaknesses of facilities. 

Automated hand hygiene monitoring solutions track real-time compliance and noncompliance events using sensors mounted to or embedded in dispensers, canisters, pumps, and sinks. They can also collect data in accordance with hospital policies (for example, upon entry and exit of a patient room). Some also provide the option for gentle reminders when a non-compliance event is detected to encourage real-time improvement.

CenTrak’s automated hand hygiene monitoring solutions are unique in that they detect the combination of a dispenser being used and the presence of a staff badge. This ensures that healthcare administrators can rely on their data, since compliance events will not be recorded simply by a staff member’s presence or handwashing by a patient or visitor. 

Boosting Compliance with Data 

Once an automated hand hygiene monitoring solution collects real-time data, accompanying software compiles that data into precise reports, allowing healthcare administrators and IPs to audit hand hygiene compliance across the enterprise and identify non-compliance trends by facility, units, or individual. Having thousands of data points readily available will become a linchpin in multiple uses: from hand hygiene campaigns to process improvement.  

In addition to providing real-time information about hand hygiene practices, these reports can help track the root cause of an outbreak and help IPs and clinical directors make actionable change with regards to clinical practice. Knowing the precise cause of an outbreak will also save time, allow IPs to utilize their resources on containment, and protect their patients and staff.

Armed with these insights, healthcare leaders can coach their teams and focus training efforts where they are needed most. An independent 2016 study conducted by three healthcare systems found that using CenTrak’s automated hand hygiene monitoring solutions boosted compliance rates by 45%. 

It’s also worth noting that The Joint Commission has urged healthcare leaders to consider electronic hand hygiene monitoring, and several accrediting groups have recently increased their hand hygiene audit requirements. This is a large undertaking for those that do not have electronic monitoring because of the manpower required to conduct manual audits. Facilities that embrace this technology will now also benefit from higher scores during accreditation site visits, mitigating the risk of losing accreditation and decreased revenues. 

Healthcare Looks Ahead

The coronavirus pandemic has brought on unexpected financial burdens for healthcare systems across the country. Prior to the pandemic, HAIs already put patients at unnecessary risk and cost billions of dollars each year — an issue that issue has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Automated monitoring solutions can help hardwire hand hygiene best practices in staff, increase compliance with hospital policies, and mitigate the impact of HAIs. Getting a handle on hand hygiene will boost the patient care experience, improve the delivery of care, and help IPs focus on the proper areas for growth while simultaneously improving hospital revenue. 

One final note: the most advanced hand hygiene solutions are deployed as part of a real-time location system (RTLS) or at least in conjunction with additional enterprise location, sensing, and security services – such as contact tracing, nurse call automation, asset management, and emergency alerts. Healthcare leaders looking to optimize the return on their investment should seek a provider that supports multiple solutions as opposed to siloed technologies and applications. 

Melissa Berrios, RN, BSN, is a clinical educator at CenTrak, a market leader in Enterprise Location Services™ for the healthcare industry and recognized by Gartner as a visionary in the Magic Quadrant for indoor location services. For more information, visit CenTrak.com

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