On any given day, about one hospital patient in 25 in the United States has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI), says the CDC (US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A lack of adequate basic hygiene precautions is very often the cause of such infections. It only takes one visitor or hospital staff member to forget to wash his or her hands to significantly increase the risk of patient infection. These figures have prompted the EPFL and Stanford University to develop a system designed to tighten up compliance with hygiene rules on hospital premises. Their idea is to use a surveillance camera supported by artificial intelligence (AI) capability to monitor whether staff and other persons are washing their hands properly. The research team have tested their system in hospitals using computer vision. The AI-based functionality proved able to spot with 75% accuracy whether or not those under observation were complying with the hand hygiene protocol. The great advantage of the Stanford-EPFL setup is that it is designed to follow a person from one room or area of the hospital to another and gather relevant information without encroaching on his/her privacy, given that individual faces cannot be identified from the video images. Besides simply collecting behavioral data, the ultimate aim is of course to ensure that everyone washes their hands when necessary while on hospital premises so as to minimize the risk of hospital-acquired infections. The first step towards this goal is to have a clear grasp of the current situation. So far, indications are that the mere presence of a camera can serve to encourage people to follow the rules. However, this hypothesis is now to be tested out in three further hospitals over the next year before attempting to reach any firm conclusions on this point. Meanwhile an Irish startup called Glanta has come up with a system called SureWash, which uses social gamification techniques to encourage hand hygiene compliance. Under both of these slightly differing approaches, information and communication technology has a strong role to play in assisting medical staff in their duties.
By Sophia Qadiri