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John McKiggan Q.C.
John McKiggan Q.C.
Attorney • (902) 423-2050

Hospital Acquired Infections – Can Technology Prevent Deadly Consequences?

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According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario as many as 250,000 Canadians suffer from hospital acquired infections every year, resulting in up to 12,000 annual deaths. It is estimated that over 30% of hospital acquired infections are preventable. Proper hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infections.

But how do you ensure that your doctor or nurse has washed their hands before they attend to you? See for example my article: Did You Wash Your Hands!? A Lesson in Tact

I have written before about the dangers of hospital acquired infections: Nova Scotia Medical Errors: C- difficile Infections kill 4 in Cape Breton Hospitals

Recognizing the Issue

The Nova Scotia government already recognizes the importance of implementing a proper system for healthcare worker hand hygiene. In fact, the Patient Safety Act, which was passed on May 17 2012, specifically states that:

“A district health authority shall compile and report hand-hygiene adherence rates in accordance with a protocol established by the regulations.”

Health Department Official Suzanne Rhodenizer admits current hand washing rates are somewhere between 40% and 50% whereas a more acceptable benchmark would be between 80% and 90%.

CBC reported Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald says the province needs to more effectively measure and report hygiene rates. Officials agree that the problem is that there is no uniform measuring or reporting system in Nova Scotia.

MacDonald was quoted as saying, “if you are not measuring the problem then it’s very difficult to fix the problem.” I totally agree.

Good First Step

I have to applaud the Health Minister for recognizing the dangers posed by hospital acquired infections and taking the first steps toward addressing the problem.

One of the problems is going to be effectively tracking how many health care workers are actually washing their hands. If they self report, the information will be inaccurate. It isn't possible to have "hand washing monitors" standing by all the soad dispensers in every hospital.

Is Technology the Solution?

There are only so many ways you can remind people to wash their hands before they just “tune out” the reminders.

But an Israeli company thinks it may have come up with a solution. Inspired by the death of her uncle, who contracted an infection after he was hospitalized for a minor complaint, Efrat Raichman is convinced her product can make a difference. Hygenix manufactures a bracelet that is worn by doctors and nurses which communicates wirelessly with soap dispensers and reminds doctors (through flashing lights and a vibration) that they need to wash their hands between patients.

The bracelet even encourages the doctors to wash more thoroughly if it senses that not enough soap was used or if they did not scrub their hands properly.

Perhaps most important, the data from each bracelet is sent to a server system and detailed reports are created documenting the hand sanitization of each worker. These reports are automatically produced and they show separate pages for each worker/department/division and hospital.

This appears to be exactly the type of information that the Nova Scotia government is attempting to monitor under the Patient Safety Act.

Fatal Consequences

Twenty years ago, hospital acquired infections was the 11th leading cause of death. Now it's the fourth leading cause of death for Canadians!

As a Nova Scotia medical malpractice lawyer, I frequently encounter patients who have experienced further complications as a result of infection.

Hospital acquired infections tend to be more virulent, dangerous and more difficult to treat than infections acquired in the community. I speak from experience; I currently represent the family of a young man who tragically died after developing a hospital acquired infection following routine surgery. Would a product like Hyginex have made a difference in his case? I don’t know. But it is worth considering.

Cost Benefits

There are some who would question whether our overburdened health care system can afford the cost of fancy gadgets to remind health care workers to do something as simple as washing their hands.

But the fact is that most health care workers are NOT washing their hands as frequently or as thoroughly as they should no matter how many times they are reminded. Patients are becoming sick, or dying, as a result. How do you put a price on that?

What do you think?

Please let me know in the comments.

2 Comments

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  1. Howard says:
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    Before investing in new technology, I’d rather facilities make the investment in their staff. I know a recent study attributed Nurse “burn out” to the rise of infections rates, and I’d have to agree. Nurses and Doctors are human and are bound to make more mistakes when they’re overworked. Before investing in a fancy new cleaning machine, why not invest in a couple of more nurses to assure every patient is getting 100% and potentially lower infection numbers.

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    Howard, thanks for your comment.

    There’s no question that overworked doctors and nurses make more errors. It would certainly be better to have more staff looking after patients.

    But I haven’t seen any studies that link higher staffing levels to increased handwashing (or vice versa).

    In other words, the issue appears to be one of personal habits and lack of attention rather than overburdened staff.

    Thanks for your feedback.