Technology is key in order to improve the level of care provided in healthcare environments

Advancing digital maturity in healthcare environments is critical. Paul Jakeway, Marketing Director here at Deb, discusses how investing in digital solutions – one of these being an electronic hand hygiene compliance system – can drastically improve patient outcomes and increase efficiency.

Significant steps must be taken to improve the digital maturity of specific NHS trusts across the UK. Digital maturity is assessed by examining a trust’s readiness to technology, the capabilities that the facility has, and whether it has the potential to enable new digital infrastructure.

To improve digital maturity, NHS England has announced that it is looking to fund new “place-based” global digital exemplars. Professor Robert Wachter, MD Professor and Interim Chairman at the University of California, recommended that the most digitally enhanced NHS trusts must be hand-picked for funding in order to elevate them to “global exemplar” status. The end-goal is that the significant transformation from being digitally advanced to being an exemplar will encourage other NHS trusts to step up to the plate and improve their digital capabilities.

Implementing digital processes in NHS facilities is a complex process

The digital advancement of the NHS has been a national priority for many years. In September 2015, NHS organisations were divided into 84 regions and instructed to draw up Local Digital Roadmaps (LDRs) to make better use of technology. Several months later, the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) was conceived and NHS organisations were divided once again, this time into 44 regions. A year later, the government announced the first 23 global exemplars – NHS trusts who were picked because they were already considered digitally advanced. Each exemplar was told that they would receive £10 million in central funding, to advance them further and help them to become a blueprint for exemplary digitalisation in the NHS. Within the next six months, NHS England is expected to announce additional ‘place-based’ exemplars.

However, to achieve exemplar status, the right digital solutions must be chosen. Hand hygiene is something which is of critical importance in healthcare environments, and something which technology can help to improve.

How to effectively prevent healthcare associated infections (HCAIs)

Infection prevention is a complex challenge for healthcare environments. The threat of HCAIs is alarming, with approximately 300,000 patients contracting an illness whilst being treated in a healthcare facility[1]. Failing to effectively prevent infections in healthcare environments can also mean that patients have to stay in hospital for longer. Patients are remaining in hospital an extra 3.6 million days a year in the UK due to infections, leaving less time to focus on new admittances[2].

Infections can spread quickly in an environment as sensitive as a hospital, with those who are young, elderly or undergoing treatment for cancer being especially vulnerable. Hands are the principal route by which infections can spread, therefore it is important that the threat is understood.

It is essential that healthcare stakeholders focus on fighting antibiotic resistance in healthcare environments. This can be achieved by cleaning the hands at critical times, and having a digital hand hygiene system in place to track and improve employee compliance.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that healthcare employees follow its ‘5 Moments for Hand Hygiene’, which advises employees to wash their hands before touching a patient, before clean or aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure or risk, after touching a patient, and after touching patient surroundings. It isn’t just the amount of times that healthcare employees wash their hands and when they do so that matters; it is also essential that employees follow the recommended 3-step hand hygiene and skin care best practice programme. This consists of the steps cleanse, sanitise and restore.

New ways of measuring hand hygiene compliance

To help win the battle and ensure that hand hygiene compliance is adhered to in healthcare environments, an increasing number of innovative digital measuring technologies have been developed, such as electronic hand hygiene compliance systems. Healthcare employees must be accountable for delivering the safe, high-quality care that the NHS is renowned for worldwide. These systems ensure that whilst providing actionable feedback to employers, it doesn’t single out individual employees.

In the past, hand hygiene compliance has been measured using direct observation, however this method is deeply problematic. The information can be both subjective and imprecise. Additionally, if employees are aware that they are being watched, then it could make them overemphasise their regular habits – this behaviour is commonly known as the Hawthorne effect. Often this method of reporting will only capture room entry and exit events, which represent less than 49% of all hand hygiene opportunities. It can also overstate actual compliance by up to 300%[3].

However, to ensure that the chosen NHS trust reaches exemplar status, the answer is electronic monitoring – a method that is considerably more reliable than direct monitoring, and can capture 100% of hand hygiene events in line with the 5 Moments, providing operators with precise, quantitative data on actual hand hygiene compliance.

State-of-the-art electronic numeration can be incorporated into hand hygiene dispensers in the healthcare environment with ease. Each time the dispenser is used, a wireless signal will become activated and is sent to a tracking server. Using this digital method, it is possible to monitor what is happening at a facility much more accurately, and operators can easily identify whether the facility falls in line with compliance standards. Through having this data at their fingertips, operators can take steps to collaborate on compliance improvement plans, set goals and ensure that as a team they are doing everything in their power to improve hand hygiene, and thus patient safety.

For healthcare environments to become more digitally mature, they must embrace the new technology that is being developed. Investing in a digital hand hygiene compliance system will ensure that a facility is on the right path to receive exemplar status, and as a consequence, is likely to achieve better patient outcomes.


[1] National Institute for Health and Care and Excellence, 2011

[2] Plowman et al, 1999

[3] Srigley, JA, et al. (2014)