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Themed-soda Machines: A Refreshing Taste of Safety

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, June 9, 2009

A piece of Americana is for sale, but it may be the real estate on the outside of the item that will get your attention when it comes to hospital safety education. American Soda Machines of Denver refurbishes old vending equipment that disperses soft drinks. As part of the process, the company also customizes the outer skin of its machines for customers—with themes of sports, animals, and, yes, hospitals.

But given the amount of acronyms and images that safety-related training uses for healthcare workers and patients, one can also imagine this space instead highlighting cough etiquette from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or reinforcing the RACE acronym for fire safety (Rescue, Alarm, Confine, and Evacuate/Extinguish).

"I think it's a cool idea," says Terry Jo Gile, MT(ASCP)MA Ed, owner of Safety Lady, LLC, in North Ft. Myers, FL. "Why should Coke or Pepsi get their names splashed all over [the side]?"

Customers prompt the artwork
The vending equipment can be customized however a hospital wants, says Damon Carson, president of American Soda Machines.

"We had several customers inquire about theming a machine into a favorite sports team," Carson says. "So, we decided to customize to multiple themes."

The machine costs $2,695 plus shipping, he says. That's roughly in line with owning some models of modern vending equipment.

While the cost may dissuade you in these belt-tightening times, the value of getting safety information in front of a captive audience also has its proponents.

"Are you taking full advantage of your employees' break times?" asks Steven MacArthur, safety consultant for The Greeley Company, a division of HCPro, Inc., in Marblehead, MA.

For example, while those in the nurses' lounge enjoy a cold beverage, surely it doesn't hurt to remind them not to burn the microwave popcorn and set off the fire alarm. Perhaps there are also future opportunities to wire these themed machines to act as quiz masters for required annual training.

"Maybe you put your money in and answer a safety question before you get your soda," MacArthur says.

Cafeterias would be ideal spots
Joking aside, Gile thinks a customized vending machine would be best used to encourage handwashing among workers, patients, and visitors.

"Handwashing is the No. 1 thing you can do in a hospital to prevent infections," she says. "I think [customization] would be great for vending machines in cafeterias."

The only time she has heard of something close to this idea of customization is in hospitals that use a form of vending machine to dispense scrubs to surgical unit personnel.

Missing surgical scrubs can add up in costs when workers wear them home and then "use them to paint their house over the weekend," Gile says. She's seen vending machines where surgical team members must insert their old scrubs into the machine in order to get new ones dispensed.


Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at swallask@hcpro.com.

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