Through a simple, effective system that leverages data to drive hand sanitation compliance, facilities can reduce HAIs by up to 70%1. And who wouldn’t want to save 70,000 lives?

By Neel Shah, MD

Not a day goes by when I don’t see someone who’s in the hospital because of an infection they got in the hospital. As an oncologist, I understand how dangerous hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) can be for patients with compromised immune systems, but HAIs can pose serious problems for everyone in a hospital, nursing home, or similar setting.

The numbers are staggering. HAIs hit more than two million people each year, resulting in 100,000 annual deaths2. To put this in perspective, three times as many people die from HAIs than they do in car accidents across the country.

Avoiding the Blame Game

We don’t like to talk about HAIs because they’re difficult to trace to a specific source, and when we go down that route, we start to sound like we’re blaming people. As it is, the method most used against HAIs is outing people who don’t wash their hands properly—not a great way to build trust, teamwork, or morale.

To avoid the blame game people often look away, knowing that everyone can’t always practice proper hygiene when juggling crises situations on busy days. The result is that the serious problem of HAIs gets swept under the rug, sometimes acknowledged but typically ignored.

This does a great disservice to the patients we’re trying to protect and heal, not only by giving them dangerous infections directly, but also by putting a strain on the healthcare workforce. There’s already a shortage of healthcare workers, and when we get sick there are fewer people treating patients.

It’s clear that the honor system and encouraging people to be tattle-tales are outdated approaches in the fight against HAIs.

A Technological Revolution (Or a “Seatbelt” for HAI Reduction)

Fortunately, we’re at a point where simple but effective technology can help solve the problem.

To bring back our car crash analogy, it’s worth noting that automobile deaths were much higher before the widespread implementation of seatbelt laws. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45%, and reduces the risk of serious injury by 50% for both drivers and front-seat passengers.3

What if we could implement a “seatbelt” for HAI reduction? The good news is we can.

Through a simple, effective system that leverages data to drive hand sanitation compliance, facilities can reduce HAIs by up to 70%.4 And who wouldn’t want to save 70,000 lives?

By placing sanitation stations in convenient locations, and by collecting data that links individuals directly to specific hand sanitation activity, we can dramatically improve compliance by changing behaviors in a non-judgmental way.

The key is to focus on progress over perfection, avoid punishing people who forget to wash their hands, and use collected data to motivate team members to do the right thing.

While the Joint Commission and other governing bodies acknowledge the benefits of automated hand sanitation systems, it’s time for these organizations—and hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities—to get more aggressive about fighting HAIs. 

With buy-in from leadership, the benefits of a data-driven hand sanitation system would impact patients and healthcare workers right away. We owe it to our patients and our co-workers to do everything we can to avoid as many preventable HAIs as possible, and a data-driven system would be a great way to start.

Dr. Neel Shah is a practicing hematologist/oncologist at Northwest Indiana Oncology PC. He also teaches medical students at Indiana University.

1 World Health Organization, Global report on infection prevention and control  

2 Infection Control and Prevention: A Review of Hospital-Acquired Infections and the Economic Implications 

3 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts

4 World Health Organization, Global report on infection prevention and control

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