Our mothers always reminded us to wash our hands because of a simple truth that’s known around the world: handwashing helps prevent the spread of disease.

This October 15th – “Global Handwashing Day” – is a great time to take stock of that fact, especially as the world stares at the threat of an Ebola pandemic.


We know good hand hygiene is the simplest and most cost-effective way to prevent the spread of infection, so why does handwashing compliance among healthcare workers hover below 50 percent?

Those numbers are even more concerning when we observe patient behavior.  A recent observation study that included 12,000 bathroom visits found that patients only washed their hands 30% of the time and most failed to wash before meals.

Poor hand hygiene costs hospitals millions of dollars.  In 2008, a MRSA-related study at Duke University calculated that every missed handwashing event cost the hospital $1.98.  That suggests that the typical 200 bed hospital loses $1.8 million a year in handwashing-related costs.  Conversely, a simple 1% improvement in compliance could save that same hospital $39,000 a year.

We all realize the healthcare environment is hectic.  Sometimes, the urgency of the moment takes precedence over stopping at a sink to wash up.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t occur to us.  Non-compliance with handwashing is rarely, if ever, intentional.

But what would we do if we knew our compliance was being monitored all the time?  A phenomenon known as the Hawthorne Effect states that people behave better, work harder and are more productive when they are participants of an experiment where they know they are under observation.  However, this short-term phenomenon goes away when the experiment ends.

Most infection preventionists will tell you that pre-announced “secret shopper” observation periods raise compliance by a significant amount.  But you can’t place secret shoppers in every corner and corridor.

Or can you?

TeleTracking’s Real Time Location System (RTLS) has the ability to monitor the hand hygiene of anyone in the hospital who is wearing an RTLS tag, including both healthcare workers and patients. The technology has multiple built-in measures to confirm compliance, including time stamps for entering and exiting a room, proximity to sink and soap dispenser and actual time spent in that location.

Following a recent installation, one TeleTracking client in a pilot program went from 600 manual handwashing observations to over a million remote observations per month.  That figure increased to two million per month in just over ninety days as a second shift was added.  After a compliance baseline is established, the monitoring program will officially go on-line. TeleTracking expects the results to be very exciting.

It may have been annoying when mom called us back to wash our hands as we came in from playing, but as grown-ups with families of our own, we have a much greater understanding of the impact of handwashing on our well-being.  “Global Handwashing Day” is a good time to reflect on the impact of handwashing in the healthcare environment, and consider the possibility that a little help from an RTLS tag and the Hawthorne Effect might save a life.

To learn more about TeleTracking’s Hand Hygiene solution, click here to download our datasheet.

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