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Physician Develops Bacteria-Busting Wi-Fi Device

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, November 15, 2010
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Passive tracking and compliance

For Andrew Sahud, MD, chairman of the infection prevention and control committee for the 755-licensed-bed Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, his invention started out as a few scribbles on a notepad five years ago after attending a Joint Commission meeting on preparedness that touched on hygiene rates. His idea: Create a small electronic device to monitor when medical staffers on a hospital unit wash their hands when interacting with a patient.

This product would be a "passive device" that could monitor hand-cleaning compliance—as opposed to direct observation by an individual, which he considered both cumbersome and expensive. And the information gathered could be sent back quickly to the providers involved if desired, instead of just being forwarded to hospital administration.

His idea eventually came to the attention of the hospital's product development office, which helped him file for a patent that was issued in August.

"I would hope that I have a little bit more insight as a clinician, as an infectious diseases doctor, into what would work and what wouldn't work," he says.

Working with an engineer from Ohio, Sahud developed a prototype that consisted of a pager-size data receptor to be worn by a hospital employee. This device would communicate with a sensor attached to a patient room entryway; sensors on adjacent soap dispensers and hand sanitizers would help indicate whether the provider washed his or her hands when inside the room.

Sahud has named the device the Semmelweis Hand Hygienometer, after Ignaz Semmelweis, who in the mid-1850s advocated hand hygiene to limit the spread of puerperal sepsis fever in Vienna. The device uses a radio frequency that is the same as the Wi-Fi Internet in the hospital and is similar to what is used in interstate highway toll collection (e.g., E-ZPass).

 To evaluate feasibility, Sahud's research team compared the device's results with information obtained for several months through direct observation of selected medical interns and nurses in a  hospital unit.

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