Good hygiene is a critical part of a hospital’s functionality, particularly when talking about patient care. At the same time, proactive healthcare also depends on human interaction and touch.

Yet human actions, particularly hand washing and equipment sterilization, are widely acknowledged as a major contribution to the spread of germs that cause HAIs. This creates an uneasy balance between face-to-face doctor-patient communications and preventing the possible spread of disease.

What issues are hospitals facing?

In statistics released in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, at any given point, as many as one in 25 patients will have a Hospital Acquired Infection (HAI). This level of extra care needed significantly adds to both the amount of time a patient spends in hospital, and the costs of actually treating them.

The RFID Journal also reported that, between February and June 2010, the Princeton Baptist Medical Center saw a 36% reduction in the length of patient stays. The Center attributed this to the integration of an RFID-based hand-washing compliance system which empowered more staff members to take the appropriate precautions and reduce the number of HAIs.

By using RFID-based tracking solutions to monitor hygiene and staff/patient movement, hospitals develop a deeper understanding of and a solution to the problem. In this instance, RFID tracking is used as a real time location system (RTLS), providing up-to-date data on what’s happening in the hospital. With data coming in almost immediately, hospital management teams can quickly take the necessary steps to stop potential outbreaks of infection in the bud.

How it works

There are several steps a hospital can take to ensure the appropriate hygiene standards are complied with.

The first aspect covers the hand hygiene protocols followed by members of staff, particularly those with regular, direct contact with patients. In this instance, the tracking process takes fixed monitoring devices and readers integrated into the hand hygiene solution dispensers. Each dispenser is located at various points throughout the healthcare facility.

Each member of staff is, in turn, provided with a wearable wireless RFID tag attached to their uniform, and which has been synced with their unique identifying details. Each time the member of staff comes within the distance of the reader’s field, their tag is automatically scanned. This then provides an alert, for instance in the form of a blinking light on the tag, reminding the member of staff that they are required to wash their hands.

Data coming in from the RFID reader is automatically sent back to the hospital’s centralized data system for monitoring and analysis. This way, hospitals can gain a general overview of where loopholes or hiccups in their existing system exist, and provide the solutions they need.

The second aspect to a hospital’s infection control system is the tracking of assets and people. This acts in much the same way as asset tracking, with hospital management able to monitor equipment and people (whether staff members or patients) as they move around the hospital. Once the alert has been raised that there may be an infection spreading, the management team can take swift action to:

Find the source;
Track who and what came into contact with the source;
Track the movement of all those who came into contact with each other;
Effectively put in place quarantines should this be necessary.

With this constant monitoring and analysis in effect, healthcare facilities are much better fitted to meet regulations and compliance standards. It also enhances the opportunity to educate members of staff and put in motion improvement assessments.

Where else is RFID used?

It isn’t just infection control that RFID tags can be useful for – hospitals have the added benefits of integrating RFID tracking into other areas.

Using tags that can withstand multiple sterilizations, RFID tracking be attached to surgical equipment trays to track their movement around facilities and to check the sterilization process. If any stage of this latter process is missed, an automatic alert is sent out to the designated member of staff. This ensures that the correct action will be taken to rectify the sterilization process – and surgeons can go into an operation knowing they have the full range of instrument available.

An automatic alert system using RFID tags for drug storage can also be set up. When optimal storage temperatures are needed to protect and keep drugs and medication in good condition, this alert system ensures temperatures are maintained at a constant. This ensures that the medication remains undamaged and fit for human consumption.