Technology applications for infection control

Locating and sensing services enables real-time tracking of medical equipment, staff and patients.

By Christopher Thompson / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
April 30, 2020

Now, more than ever, healthcare facilities are searching for ways to control the spread of disease and minimize the number of healthcare-associated infections. From the air in the facility, to the staff who work in the building, potential carriers of contamination are everywhere. On top of typical concerns for infections to develop, healthcare providers now need to worry about the spread of COVID-19.  Hospitals across the country are preparing to see an influx of patients infected with the virus. Extra precautions will need to be taken to ensure that medical equipment is properly sanitized and to inform healthcare providers if they have encountered a patient diagnosed with the disease. 

Locating and sensing services enables real-time tracking of medical equipment, staff and patients. The improved visibility provides a way for healthcare facilities to prevent the spread of infection, increase patient safety and receive non-compliance events, as well as contamination alerts. By utilizing IoT technology, facilities can leverage tools for asset tracking, capacity management, hand hygiene compliance, contact tracing and environmental monitoring, among others. Having access to real-time, as well as historical, location and environmental condition data not only saves the hospital time and valuable resources, but also provides a safer environment for staff and patients. Learn more about the various applications of Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) and Environmental Monitoring solutions as it relates to healthcare infection control and prevention efforts. 

Asset tracking and capacity management

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increase, so does the needs of the healthcare industry. The coronavirus pandemic is creating an exponential demand for healthcare resources; overcrowding of facilities, dwindling personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators are all major concerns. To handle the influx of patients, hospitals need to be able to locate clean, ready-to-use, life-saving equipment as quickly as possible. With Enterprise Location Services, staff members have the ability to search for available equipment by category, make/manufacturer, along with other attributes. Asset tracking provides other benefits such as, monitoring equipment in quarantine rooms, efficient soiled equipment management, and contact tracing of equipment via location history reports. The system, combined with capacity management software, helps to optimize resources such as staff and critical medical equipment by creating a more streamlined workflow.

 Hand-hygiene compliance

The CDC reports that one of the best ways to protect yourself from getting the coronavirus, or any other infection, is to wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing protocols are enforced by the Joint Commission and citations are issued to accredited healthcare organizations if an employee does not comply with the established guidelines. Keeping track of compliance is not an easy feat, especially since hospitals are busier than usual due to COVID-19. With location and sensing services, hand hygiene compliance can be automated and tracked with ease. Real-time gentle reminders for staff can also be enabled to increase compliance. A facility in Denver that has implemented an electronic hand hygiene monitoring system reported a 75% increase in clinician compliance rates since its implementation. 

As part of the system, employees wear a smart staff badge that communicates with the hand hygiene sensors mounted on or embedded into the soap or sanitizer dispensers. When a staff member enters and exits a patient’s room and activates the dispenser, the sensor reads their badge ID number and measures compliance, in comparison to the hospital’s protocol. Room rules can also be customized to allow for special circumstances, such as when donning PPE before fully entering an isolation room. This same badge can be used for additional real-time location use cases such as staff duress alerting, nurse call automation and contact tracing.

Contract tracing

During an outbreak of any kind, it is extremely beneficial for healthcare facilities to have visibility into people and equipment that staff and patients have interacted with. Contact Tracing is a contact history log, based on location, to accurately track interactions with other people and facility equipment. It also allows for faster investigation and reporting of the potential risk when an infected individual enters a medical center. For example, if a patient stayed in room 114, and was later diagnosed with COVID-19, the hospital would be able to view an automated, detailed report of that patient’s interactions. The facility would have the option to filter by location, timeframe or individual to pinpoint who and what came in contact with the infected patient. This information allows hospitals to accurately track patients’ interactions with others to provide targeted communications to help prevent the further spread of disease.

Environmental monitoring

Environmental monitoring is crucial in healthcare and encompasses many aspects. The system records temperatures, humidity and air pressure in patient rooms, refrigerators, freezers, etc. If temperatures or environmental conditions begin to fall outside of the safe rage, immediate alerts are sent, allowing staff to take immediate action. Real-time alerting is a cost-effective mechanism to ensure the safety of patients and staff members. Just like the hand hygiene compliance system, hospitals can also generate reports for any time period, helping to remain compliant and streamline workflows. 

Monitoring air pressure for patient rooms is extremely important when an airborne infection is present. Patients with COVID-19 need to be placed in a negative pressure room to prevent respiratory droplets from entering the hospital air supply. Maintaining proper temperature conditions is also essential to ensure the proper storage of vaccines, labs and other therapies.  Recording and tracking this data remotely eliminates the need for manual processes, enabling greater staff efficiency and reducing the likelihood or human error. 

The future of healthcare

When the day comes, and the current COVID-19 pandemic comes to a close, location and sensing services will still hold its value in healthcare. The future proof system allows for easy integrations and access to other solutions. The data collected will continue to improve operations, increase efficiency and prevent hospital acquired infections, while removing human error and bias out of the equation. IoT technology will continue to improve the patient experience and give staff peace of mind; this, is the future of healthcare. 

Christopher Thompson, RN, is the Director of Sales, Patient Experience with CenTrak.


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