Forgetting to wash your hands can be a hazard to your health, but it can be especially dangerous for hospital employees who are around sick patients.
Hospitals have fretted for years over how to make sure doctors, nurses and staff keep their hands clean, but with only limited success. Now, some are turning to technology - beepers, buzzers, lights and tracking systems that remind workers to sanitize, and chart those who don't.
Health experts say poor hand cleanliness is a factor in hospital-borne infections that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that one of every 20 patients in U.S. hospitals gets a hospital-acquired infection each year.
"We've known for over 150 years that good hand hygiene prevents patients from getting infections," said Dr. John Jernigan, an epidemiologist for the CDC. "However, it's been a very chronic and difficult problem to get adherence levels up as high as we'd like them to be."
About 1.7 million health care-related infections occur each year nationwide, and 99,000 of these are fatal, according to Consumer Reports .
Since last year, SSM St. Mary's Health Center in the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights, Mo., has been the test site for a system developed by Biovigil Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich. A flashing light on a badge turns green when hands are clean, red if they're not. It also tracks each hand-cleaning opportunity - the successes and the failures.