Five Healthcare Technologies to Improve Quality and Patient Safety

Gienna Shaw, June 15, 2010

There are so many new, cool things happening in the world of healthcare technology that it's impossible to keep up—which is why my inbox is cluttered with e-mails from PR folks who are "just checking" to make sure I got their e-mail . . . for the fourth time. So, since today is National Clean Out Your Inbox Day (OK, there's no such day—but there should be), here are a few cool healthcare technologies that hospitals are using to reduce hospital-acquired infections (HAI) and help clinicians practice safer medicine.

1. Like a really big can of Lysol, except with light
The maker calls it "the fastest, safest, and most effective method for the advanced cleaning of hospital rooms in the world today." Hyperbole aside, Xenex Healthcare's disinfection system uses patented xenon UV pulse technology to deliver high-intensity, broad-spectrum UV light to quickly kill microorganisms on surfaces and in the air without contact or chemicals.

The UV pulse of the lamp penetrates cell walls of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, mold, fungus, and spores, and essentially fuses the DNA of the microorganisms, leading to instant damage, the inability to reproduce or mutate, and killing the organism, according to the company.

2. Taking the icky out of remote controls
I hate to touch the TV remote control in hotel rooms—so I don't even want to think about the germs on a hospital remote. Some hospitals, including UCLA Medical Center and the University of Washington Medical Center, have replaced their bacteria laden remotes in high-risk areas with a product called the Clean Remote.

The device has a non-porous flat surface with no nooks and crannies where germs can hide. It's easy to clean and resists bacteria, according to the maker, New Remotes Inc. Clinical studies at the University of Arizona found it to be 99% cleaner than any other remote tested. And they make them for hotels, too.

3. Getting all virtual on patient safety and quality
The North Shore-LIJ Health System's newly-expanded Patient Safety Institute features cutting-edge simulation technology, including an operating room, a procedure room, a labor and delivery suite, and eight critical care rooms, that help physicians and nurses hone their clinical and communication skills in a realistic hospital setting without risk to live patients.

Computerized patient mannequins can be programmed to mimic a range of high-risk medical scenarios, such as respiratory failure and cardiac arrest in a variety of clinical settings. All simulations are video recorded and reviewed during post-scenario debriefings.

4. Would you rather we brought in soap-smelling dogs?
Developed at University of Florida, the HyGreen technology can sniff out sanitizer or soap fumes in order to monitor healthcare workers' hand hygiene. The technology logs, down to the second, the frequency of hand cleaning and contact with patients in a database that clinical supervisors can review in real time.

The device's maker, Xhale, is also developing technologies that analyze a person's breath and other types of vapors for use in pharmaceutical, health monitoring, and diagnostic applications. For example, the company is developing a product that would allow remote monitoring of patients to ensure medication compliance. It can also be used to ensure compliance by clinical trial participants, improving both safety and efficacy.

5. Smart talk about hospital-acquired infections
Linguists at Xerox Corporation have teamed up with medical researchers in France to explore how language technology can help prevent HAIs. During a three-year project, researchers will use an advanced text mining tool developed by Xerox to analyze medical records, automatically identifying patients who could be at risk of contracting an HAI.

The technology reviews medical records and identifies specific terms and sequences of facts that indicate a patient may have contracted an HAI. The software not only pinpoints meaningful pieces of information, such as patient symptoms, drugs and names of bacteria but also how they are linked to each other.

When these links identify potential risk, the system automatically alerts the staff to take preventative measures. The project brings together a range of unique competencies in the fields of natural language processing, terminology, knowledge representation, epidemiological surveillance, medicine, and infection control, according to the company.

Now, if only someone would invent a product to automatically sort through your e-mails and clean out your inbox for you.

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