An IBBME researcher is developing a wearable technology that reminds frontline health-care workers to consistently wash their hands. This technology could significantly reduce the spread of Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs), including COVID-19.

Dubbed the Buddy Badge, the wearable device acts as a transponder, using a system of sensors connected to hand-washing stations, doorways, and critical routes to patient rooms. If the badge wearer has not washed their hands before entering a patient’s room, for example, it will discreetly vibrate to remind them to do so.

“The idea we are proposing is a nurse or physician arrives at work, retrieves a personalized device, and carries on with their day as normal,” says Professor Geoff Fernie (IBBME), a senior scientist and former director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. “The device will remind them about hand-washing throughout the day.”

With the recent development of COVID-19 cases, Fernie says “the need for this system is more crucial than ever.” The additional COVID-19 cases have significantly increased the workload for health-care professionals, making it easier to miss opportunities when washing hands as recommended.

In a large Intensive Care Unit (ICU) such as the one at University Health Network, a nurse may have over 350 hand hygiene opportunities during a 12-hour shift, or up to 30 opportunities each patient care hour where hand hygiene is recommended.

“Studies in some hospitals showed that our device has doubled the hand hygiene rate, which should reduce the infection rates,” adds Fernie. “We hope this system helps change the habits of health-care workers, making it safer for everyone.”

Better adherence to hand hygiene could reduce infection and death rates — estimates of hand washing before and after interacting with a patient range from 30 to 60 per cent.

Fernie and his team have been working on wearable technology for 17 years. In 2018, this technology took form of a startup company Hygienic Echo, with the primary goal of reducing infections in communal settings. This idea was published in 20 peer reviewed scientific articles, and since filed nine patents.

Fernie plans to deploy the technology in a hospital setting in Summer 2020 and in a nursing home this Fall.

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