Healthcare News & Insights

Combating healthcare-associated infections with advanced location technology

Hospitals are always trying to figure out how they can reduce their rate of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). In this guest post, Melissa Berrios, RN, BSN, clinical educator for a provider of real-time location systems (RTLS) for the healthcare industry, offers one way to do just that.

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A new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading across the globe, and it shows no signs of slowing down. People experiencing symptoms are encouraged to seek the help of healthcare providers – but this puts other patients, visitors and staff at risk of getting sick as well. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised healthcare facilities to enhance infection prevention and control practices in an effort to reduce its spread. There is a valid fear that if COVID-19 isn’t contained, it could turn into a pandemic.

The CDC cites HAIs as the most common adverse hospital-related event affecting one in 25 patients during their hospital stays and resulting in more than 99,000 deaths per year. Many healthcare systems seemingly still struggle to address HAIs, and many times, healthcare leaders simply aren’t familiar with how real-time location (RTLS) technology can be used to support infection control.

Healthcare systems that manually monitor infection prevention related processes leave room for human error and typically suffer from increased rates of infection. Conversely, systems that leverage more modern solutions can better contain HAIs, lower associated costs, and offer patients, visitors and staff greater peace of mind. Let’s consider some popular use cases:

Increasing hand hygiene compliance

The CDC states proper hand hygiene is one of the most effective practices of any infection prevention strategy. And yet, studies show that on average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should. With location monitoring solutions, healthcare organizations can automate the documentation of hand hygiene compliance and noncompliance events, freeing healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care.

In one registry style study, more than 80 months of hand hygiene compliance data was collected via RTLS from three separate healthcare organizations. Significant discrepancies between observer-reported (an average of 89% compliance reported) and actual caregiver hand washing rates (an average of approximately 57%) were found within all the three facilities. With electronic, automated and individual monitoring in place, hand hygiene compliance increased to an average of 83% across all participating hospitals.

Though these solutions often have a significant impact, they’re simple to install and operate. The technology is integrated into existing workflows and additional staff training isn’t required. Sensors that can be embedded directly within the facility’s dispensers are available, as well as battery powered sensors that mount externally to dispensers, canisters, pumps or sinks. When a staff member wearing a lightweight RFID-enabled badge utilizes the soap or sanitizer, the system records the hand washing event in comparison to hospital protocol and customized room rules. (For example, entering an isolation room requires staff to follow a different set of infection prevention measures that may not apply to other areas of the hospital.)

Following the path to infection

Contact tracing, or identifying and following up with people who come in close contact with someone who is infected with a virus, is another essential consideration for infection control. Hospitals that implement RTLS for their staff, patients and assets can have accurate records of location data sets for each individual group, as well as information regarding the interactions among them (staff-patient-equipment). This capability allows for faster reporting, streamlines day-to-day operations and adds an extra layer of defense against the spread of HAIs.

In the case of an outbreak like that of the coronavirus, it also reduces wide-spread panic, minimizes confusion and can jumpstart a plan for emergency response by targeting only those that may have been within the chain of infection. Further, the data from contact tracing begins at the infected person(s) and works backward to determine where the infection came from. Finding the infection’s source before it gets out of control can save time, resources and, most importantly, lives.

Managing assets and medical scope

Similar to contact tracing, asset and medical scope management allows staff to easily track the location and utilization of reusable medical equipment and helps to suppress HAIs. It improves sterilization processes by recording what medical instrument was used on which patient and keeping track of what equipment is clean and what items must be sanitized or discarded, ensuring contaminated equipment is never used on vulnerable patients.

Monitoring sensitive environments

Unmonitored healthcare organizations can give bacteria and viruses prime breeding ground and the opportunity to thrive. By automating temperature and humidity monitoring with real-time alerts, hospitals and healthcare facilities can limit the conditions that allow organisms like bacteria and viruses to live, thereby reducing the growth of HAIs.

Remote monitoring systems measure the conditions of given environments automatically, without the need for staff to manually record or report data. This reduces the risk of human error and can help protect patients and temperature-sensitive assets around the clock.

Ensuring sterile surgical processing

RTLS technology also supports sterile surgical processing by combining contact tracing, asset management and environmental monitoring capabilities. During an operation, it’s critical that medical instruments have been properly sterilized before they are used, and with RTLS technology in place, physicians can be confident in the sterilization of their tools.

Likewise, air quality is another essential factor for a safe and successful surgery. The most sophisticated automated monitoring solutions measure differential air pressure and alert users to anything out of the ordinary, like the failure of an operating room’s ventilation system.

Features to keep in mind

Most real-time location systems are enabled by a network of passive and active RFID tags, but it’s important to note that when it comes to infection prevention and control, not all tags are created equal.

RFID tags built for healthcare can be designed without seams, screw holes or crevices where bacteria can grow and thrive. They are also reusable, waterproof and able to go through an extensive sterilization process without getting damaged, which makes them more cost efficient and promotes a cleaner, safer healthcare environment.

One of the greatest appeals of an RTLS is its ability to provide real-time analysis on nearly every level of a facility, from assets to patients to environmental conditions, and share that data with other systems, including computerized maintenance management systems and electronic health records. Having a cohesive infection control solution in place can best equip a facility facing emergency and even help professionals mitigate the opportunity for an emergency to arise.

Melissa Berrios, RN, BSN, is a clinical educator for CenTrak.com, a company that improves healthcare efficiency and the quality of patient care via robust and scalable Enterprise Location Services™ offerings.

 

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