Electronic monitoring systems in dispensers can provide more accurate hand washing compliance data, but hospitals often cite the costs as prohibitive.

Despite the hefty price tag, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is on the brink of launching an automatic monitoring solution in two of its patient care units. Once in place, the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system will affect 64 beds and approximately 100 staff members.

“We are just starting to implement new badges for the staff with RFID tags embedded in them,” explains Kent Miller, director of environmental services. “A sensor will read the staff member’s badge as they enter the room, and they will have thirty seconds to either use hand sanitizer or hand soap. Each dispenser will have a sensor in it that reads when someone pushes it.”

Miller anticipates a drop in hand hygiene compliance rates initially, as some of the kinks are worked out.

“For example, if a staff member runs into a room on code, you’re not going to expect them to wash their hands,” he says. “If you’re observing them visually, you’re not going to count that against them, but if it’s an automatic system it is going to count that against them.”

While Miller admits these discrepancies still need to be worked out, he has seen electronic monitoring systems succeed elsewhere.

“I had a system like that on the oncology floor at a hospital I came from,” he says. “It took a while for staff to be positive about it, but then they saw the impact it had. Within three or four months, we saw compliance rates go up.”

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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