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Consortium Forms to Mandate Electronic Monitoring of Hand Hygiene in Healthcare

Published April 5, 2016 11:37 AM by Monique Barrett
[Editor's note: This post was originally written by Paul Alper, chairman, EHCO.]

Leaders in healthcare face daily pressure to drive quality and economic efficiencies. This trend has become more prominent as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) imposes penalties that demand hospitals do more with less. Today's healthcare executives must find new evidence-based ways to improve practices and standards of care and choose methods that are relatively easy to implement into their organization's culture.

One patient safety area now attracting attention, thanks to the CMS Hospital Associated Condition (HAC) penalty, is the need for effective methods to reduce infections. Every year in the United States, more than 700,000 hospital patients contract an avoidable infection known as an HAI, healthcare-associated infection. Of those patients, approximately 75,000 will die.

While proper hand hygiene is critical to preventing the transmission of many infections, compliance with hand hygiene guidelines is less than 50% globally. Until recently, the only way to measure how well healthcare workers performed hand hygiene was manual direct observation, typically by infection preventionists or nursing staff often referred to as "secret shoppers." With direct observation, individuals know they are being observed and adjust their behavior, a phenomenon known as the "Hawthorne Effect," inflating a hospital's true compliance rate. A hospital may think its hand hygiene compliance rate is 90%; but in reality, it is closer to 30%.

Just as every other area of healthcare is adopting advanced technologies for improved efficiencies and care, innovative tools are now available to measure compliance accurately and reliably, which has been shown to help drive true improvement in hand hygiene compliance and reducing avoidable infections and their associated costs. Unfortunately, the awareness of the connection between increased hand hygiene compliance and enhanced patient care and reduced costs has remained low among healthcare leadership.

To put the significance of hand hygiene compliance in the spotlight, eight companies that developed such technologies have formed an alliance: Electronic Hand Hygiene Compliance Organization (EHCO) in February 2016. EHCO's purpose is to increase safety, reduce avoidable harm and eliminate unnecessary costs at hospitals nationwide by leading the change in hand hygiene measurement policy and guidelines at accreditation organizations, government agencies, health insurers and hospitals. The companies engaged in EHCO include Airista, BioVigil, CenTrak, Clean Hands-Safe Hands, DebMed, Hill-Rom, Inc., SwipeSense and Versus Technology.

EHCO goals align with those of hospital leadership in that each strives to reduce the risk of HAIs, their associated costs and potential penalties. EHCO invites executive and quality leadership to consider the real cost of using antiquated methods of measuring hand hygiene compliance and suggests that now is the time for hospitals to make the change in how they measure this key performance indicator of patient safety and quality and consider adoption of an electronic solution.

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