3 Outdated Beliefs About Electronic Hand Hygiene Monitoring

Electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems, which automatically track hand hygiene, have evolved significantly since their inception over a decade ago. Back in 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the potential benefits of automated systems but noted “several limitations” and a lack of strong scientific evidence.

That was then. Today, electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems are sleeker and smarter than the first-generation systems released in the 2010s. Yet outdated beliefs still linger. Do you believe any of these three dated assumptions?

Dated Assumption #1: “The technology isn’t ‘there’ yet.”

First-generation electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems were indeed technologically limited. The hardware was big and bulky. Wall-mounted systems measured point-of-care hand hygiene but could not deliver individualized hand hygiene data. Technological limitations meant that it was all but impossible to track hand hygiene in open bay areas like emergency departments and post-anesthesia care units. 

Current Reality:

Automated hand hygiene systems, like smartphones, have undergone multiple iterations over the past decade. And just as the phone in your pocket is now much quicker and more advanced than the phone you had in 2013, today’s electronic hand hygiene systems are also more robust and responsive. System hardware is more streamlined and less obtrusive. Embedded radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology allows systems to easily track individual performance and performance by unit or job title. 

Today’s systems don’t simply monitor hand hygiene; they actively encourage it. Automatic, real-time reminders prompt healthcare providers to perform hand hygiene, boosting hand hygiene metrics and decreasing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Systems (like SwipeSense) that integrate with electronic medical records highlight the need for specialized hand hygiene in certain clinical situations – and can even remind healthcare workers to use soap and water instead of alcohol-based hand rub when caring for patients with C. diff infections. EMR integration also simplifies contact tracing, allowing infection control personnel to generate a list of at-risk staff and patients with a click of a button. 

Advanced electronic hand hygiene systems can now also accurately measure hand hygiene performance in emergency departments, pre and post-operative units, and other open bay areas.  Utilizing location hubs, non-obtrusive hygiene sensors, and personnel-worn badges, the SwipeSense system gathers this crucial data without disrupting clinical flow. 

Dated Assumption #2: “It’s too expensive.”

Innovative technology is almost always expensive. In 1991, a handheld calculator cost $395; that’s more than $12,000 in 2023 dollars. One of IBM’s first personal computers cost nearly $3000 in the early ‘80s. Today, you can buy a much quicker, sleeker, more capable laptop computer for less than $1000.

Early electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems were expensive. Costs have come down considerably over the past decade, even as systems added features and increased capability.

Current Reality:

In many cases, automated hand hygiene monitoring is now less expensive than direct observation of hand hygiene. Technology costs have decreased as personnel costs have soared. According to Hand Hygiene: A Handbook for Medical Professionals, it takes an average of 10 minutes to record a hand hygiene operation. 

The Leapfrog Group requires healthcare systems that use direct observation to assess hand hygiene to report 200 observations, or 1.7% of all possible hand hygiene opportunities per unit per month. So, a hospital that has 250 beds spread across 8 units needs to observe and report 1600 hand hygiene observations per month (200 observations X 8 units = 1600 observations). At 10 minutes per observation, that’s 16,000 minutes – 267 hours – of staff time per month devoted to collection of hand hygiene data. 

The median salary for a Registered Nurse is now nearly $40 per hour, so that’s $10,680 per month and more than $128,000 per year for direct observation. That’s a significant number – and not the best use of RN skill, particularly amid a nursing shortage.

Recent studies have demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of electronic hand hygiene monitoring. In fact, investing in an automated system can increase profitability. Hospitals that use SwipeSense have reduced healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) by as much as 75% in one year, and a study conducted at Stanford Hospital found that preventing just one HAI increases hospital profits by approximately $600,000

Dated Assumption #3: “It’s not accurate.”

Accuracy has long been a concern associated with new technologies. (Self-driving cars, anyone?) Earlier electronic hand hygiene systems weren’t as accurate as current ones, so it’s understandable that some health systems and providers were initially hesitant to implement the technology. While some people still worry that it’s possible to “cheat” the system and obtain credit for hand hygiene that wasn’t performed, the best automated systems very accurately assess hand hygiene. 

Current Reality:

A 2022 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control tested the accuracy of the electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems in real-life clinical conditions and found a 100% sensitivity and 94% positive predictive value for doctors and nurses providing clinical care. 

The SwipeSense system has been clinically validated across dozens of facilities to capture an accurate representation of overall staff hand hygiene compliance. It’s even being used in challenging environments like open bay areas. The system does not simply infer hand hygiene based on provider presence in a room but rather uses inter-connected sensors (location hubs, provider badges and hygiene sensors on soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer dispensers) to detect and measure hand hygiene performance. 

Hand hygiene technology has come a long way in the past decade. Electronic hand hygiene monitoring systems are now accurate, easy-to-use, and cost-effective.  Learn more about how SwipeSense can help you meet your hand hygiene goals.