By Christopher Thompson, RN and Director of Patient Experience, CenTrak
Healthcare-associated infections cause more than 98,000 deaths and cost the healthcare industry an average of $10 billion per year. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened these concerns as hospitals face overcrowding, understaffing, and dwindling equipment. If a patient contracts the coronavirus or another disease during hospitalization, their length of stay increases, which in turn, decreases hospital resources and puts others at risk.
The number of beds, for example, proved to be inadequate, and, in some hospitals, patients have been forced to share. The danger of such congestion during the pandemic can’t be overstated. Therefore, to ensure the safety of patients and staff, hospitals must consider solutions for infection control. For instance, installing a hand sanitizer dispenser at every entrance and exit point can help curb the spread of this dreaded disease. In fact, this should be practiced across all organizations, not just hospitals.
Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) provide hospital leaders access to location and environmental condition data to make more informed strategic operational decisions. Hospital teams focused on Infection prevention are an especially good fit for the benefits of this technology. Infection preventionists can leverage enterprise location services to combat the spread of disease by automating hand hygiene compliance reports and environmental monitoring and slowing the potential of disease spread through contact tracing. Using RTLS to automate infection control monitoring and reporting not only prevents human error, it also saves valuable resources by allowing the infection preventionist to dedicate more time to educating staff on infection prevention techniques.
Managing the Spread of Infection with Location Technology
Enterprise location services support infection prevention solutions as well as many other use cases. As part of a hand hygiene compliance system, employees wear a smart staff badge that communicates with hand hygiene sensors mounted on or embedded into the soap or sanitizer dispensers. The sensor reads the staff member’s badge number and measures compliance in comparison to the hospital’s protocol.
This technology helps resolve one of the biggest issues in COVID-19 prevention efforts—the consistency of measures compliance. Many people, especially those who are ever-busy, can easily forget the basic health protocols. This technology can, therefore, be used to increase safety by ensuring that everyone sanitizes their hands regularly. To accomplish this, real-time reminders for staff can be enabled so one can receive an alert whenever they forget. This will increase the rate of compliance. Patient or room specific rules can be built into the system to allow for special circumstances, such as isolation room protocols.
This same system can be leveraged for contact tracing for patients, visitors, and staff and can even be extended to assets by placing the appropriate tags on hospital equipment. Contact tracing provides a log of location history for all staff, patients, visitors, and assets that an infection preventionist deems key for infection control initiatives. For example, a facility could quickly identify whom and what an infected individual came in contact with during their stay and trigger alerts for those who are potentially at risk of contracting the same disease due to exposure. The system can also be designed to relay targeted information and avoid any unnecessary confusion that could trigger panic among potential victims. The system can also help target communication and actions, thereby preventing unnecessary confusion.
Finally, location technology also supports environmental monitoring by recording temperatures, humidity levels, and air pressure in patient rooms, refrigerators, or freezers. If temperatures or environmental conditions begin to fall outside of the safe rage, alerts are sent immediately to designated staff, prompting them to take action. Real-time alerting is not only a cost-effective way to ensure the safety of patients and staff members; it also prevents spoilage of expensive vaccines, diagnostic testing materials, and various immunotherapies. Similar to hand hygiene and contact tracing solutions, environmental monitoring solutions provide hospital leaders with automated reporting that help them remain compliant with various regulatory bodies and enables them to make better decisions with accurate data.
Infection Control Investments for Healthcare Facilities
At a time when hospital leaders and healthcare providers around the country are fighting to keep up, RTLS can help them feel more confident in their data collection and offer real-time offering situational awareness that they might otherwise struggle to maintain. The fact that data is collected in real-time and updated immediately ensures that leaders get to implement new ideas and take the necessary precautions as soon as possible. With the current state of affairs in healthcare, there’s no room for mistakes. With its high rate of accuracy, RTLS ensures just that.
Hospital leaders that invest in enterprise location technology for infection control can expect to see economic benefits resulting from better resource management and improved infection prevention in their facilities. For example, automated hand hygiene compliance systems can significantly reduce the labor cost of current hand hygiene compliance monitoring by eliminating the need for observers and data aggregators. With improved operational insights the facility can institute a hand hygiene program to reduce healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) thereby saving the hospital money. Similarly, contact tracing helps reduce the spread of infection and possible HAIs saving the hospital from additional lost revenue and environmental monitoring allows real-time situational awareness that can prevent the added cost of spoiled vaccines, medications due to out of compliance temperatures.
Prior to the coronavirus, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reported saving more than $900,000 per year just by automating temperature monitoring processes using location technology. The same facility was able to save another $3.5 million by using RTLS to improve asset management and optimize the use of their equipment.
According to FAIR Health, COVID-19 patients are projected to cost healthcare systems between $362 billion to $1.449 trillion. The spread and economic damage caused by COVID-19 have demonstrated a real and immediate need for investments in infection control. If preventive measures aren’t given the seriousness they deserve, the impacts that are already felt will get even worse. It’s imperative that everyone complies with the regulations set in place. RTLS is one of the systems that can help improve in that area. Leveraging enterprise location technologies for infection control can lower operating costs and improve situational awareness while supporting the hospital’s mission to keep patients safe and healthy.
Christopher Thompson is the director of patient experience at CenTrak, a leading provider of location and senses services for the healthcare industry. Thompson has a master’s degree in nursing and more than 20 years of experience leveraging technology to improve hospital operations. For more information, visit centrak.com.