Swipe Right For Your Health: Reducing Hospital Related Infections With Wearable Tech

Medicine isn't perfect, and everyone understands that it's possible for a condition to worsen somewhat over the course of treatment. But imagine instead that you went to the hospital and came down with an unrelated illness that was much more dangerous than the one you already had! Sadly, healthcare associated infections (HAI's) are commonplace in hospitals and other treatment facilities around the world. In fact, the Center For Disease Control (CDC) reports that nearly one in twenty five patients in the US are affected by HAI's, which collectively resulted in over 205 deaths a day in 2011.

Of the 722,000 patients who were reported to have HAI's in 2011, 75,000 of them died from the infection or the complications it introduced in their treatment. Pneumonia, gastrointestinal illness, UTI's, bloodstream infections, and surgical site infections appear to be the leading culprits when it comes to HAI's. But there's a bigger concern here: why are people getting sick in the very place designated for improving their health?

The simple answer is that hospitals consolidate these dangerous bugs in one building, a building filled with people whose immune systems are already compromised from their respective illnesses. But there's more to it then that. The causes for these pesky infections range from the over prescription of antibiotics to complications from surgery.

One paper found that significant spikes in fatal medication errors correlate with the time of year when medical residencies typically begin (July). Another report, conducted by HealthGrades, found that "a typical patient has a 73% lower risk of dying in a 5‐star rated hospital compared to a 1‐star rated hospital." While this report was not specific to HAI's, it nonetheless reveals the dire consequences that can result from negligent or inexperienced doctors, nurses, technicians, and even office administrators.

Hospitals have a number of procedures already in place to prevent the spread of infections among patients and staff. In the case of the most contagious diseases, such as measles or Ebola, hospitals will quarantine the patients and only allow workers to approach them while while wearing protective masks and gloves. But even these extreme measures don't always work, as evinced by the measles outbreak in a Manhattan hospital last February. If we can't achieve full compliance with these careful measures, how can we expect to prevent more commonplace infections?

SwipeSense is a young startup that aims to address this exact problem by boosting hand sanitation compliance with wearable tech. Rather than relying on wall-mounted gel dispensers, doctors and nurses wear a small, touchless device on their waists. SwipeSense not only provides convenient hand sanitation, it also records data to measure compliance and reminds staff to sanitize their hands before entering or leaving a patient's room. SwipeSense has been shown to improve hand hygiene compliance by an average of 64% at some of the nation's top-rated hospitals.

Most people don't think about the cost associated with disease, but such figures are constantly at the forefront of hospital administrators' minds. Every HAI could set a healthcare facility back as much as $15k, while SwipeSense only costs $99/year per practitioner. The numbers don't lie: this tech gadget is a smart investment both medically and financially. Of course, given its still nascent presence in medical facilities, the jury's still out on whether or not it will successfully reduce the rate of infections around the world.

Even so, there are two reasons to be optimistic: for one thing, the use of SwipeSense in poorer or lower-rated hospitals will probably have a much more dramatic effect than it has at Northwestern Memorial or Rush Medical Center. What's more, by eliminating (or nearly eliminating) hand hygiene compliance as a potential cause of HAI's, researchers can take a significant step forward in pinpointing the exact causes of these widespread infections and seeking more targeted prevention methods.

CRAIN's Chicago Business
New York Times
Mobi Health News
HealthGrades 2011 Report
Center for Disease Control

About the Author:
Iris Stone is a freelance writer, editor, and business owner who has written on a range of topics. She has experience covering content on medicine, healthcare, and career training, as well as education. Iris is also interested in science and mathematics and is currently studying to be a physicist. Check out her Google+ Profile.

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