U of T startup develops technology that encourages hand hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID19

Improving hand hygiene (HH) is one of the most effective solution to reduce COVID-19 from spreading in hospitals and nursing homes. To this end, Dr. Geoff Fernie is developing a wearable technology that reminds first-line responders to wash their hands despite their busy schedules. This technology could significantly reduce the spread of Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs) including COVID19.

“Studies in some hospitals showed that our device has doubled the hand hygiene rate, which should reduce the infection rates. We hope this system helps change the habits of healthcare workers, making it safer for everyone.” says Professor Geoff Fernie at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto, and the former director of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

With the recent development of COVID19 cases, Fernie says “the need for this system is more crucial than ever”. The additional COVID19 cases have significantly increased the workload for healthcare 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 (UHN), 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.

Better adherence to HH could reduce this infection rate and reduce this unnecessary death rate. However, realistic estimates of hand washing before and after interacting with a patient range from 30% to 60%.

“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 Fernie. “The device will remind them about hand-washing throughout the day.”

Dubbed as the ‘Buddy Badge’, the wearable device acts as a transponder. Along with the badge, the technology also consists of a system of sensors connected to hand washing stations, doorways, and critical routes to the patient’s room. For instance, if the badge wearer has not washed their hands before entering a patient’s room, it will discreetly vibrate to remind them to do so.

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 9 patents.

This technology is planning to be deployed in the first hospital in Summer of 2020 and in the first nursing home this Fall.