Gene Lu's Portfolio

Hand Wash Tracker for the Hospital

A while back, several of us (Michael Katayama, Colleen Miller, Eric St. Onge, and I) at the School of Visual Arts’ MFA in Interaction Design program got together to try to figure out how to encourage people to wash their hands. Using an Arduino (~$45) and some switches (~$5), we prototyped a system that informed people outside of the bathroom whether or not the current bathroom user washed their hands. It also kept track of the level of cleanliness of that bathroom, which is based on the average number of users that have washed their hands. Here’s the link to that project:

When GOOD magazine challenged its readers to come up with a system that encouraged hand washing within the context of a hospital, this hand wash tracker was the first thing that came to mind. Of course, it needed to be modified in order to satisfy the needs of a hospital.

Prior to figuring out how exactly I was going to apply this project to a hospital setting, I briefly interviewed a couple of hospital employees and also did some research online. From that research, I came up with a following set of questions that this new system had to answer:

  1. Doctors and nurses know that they are supposed to wash their hands when engaging with a patient, but what about visitors? How can we encourage them to wash their hands?
  2. How can we quantify the level of hand washing so that doctors, nurses, and visitors are held accountable for their hand washing habits?
  3. How can we better inform families and friends about the cleanliness of a loved one’s hospital room?

The proposed system that is shown in the sketch attempts to answer most of these questions by making information transparent to both the hospital staff and to relatives and friends of the hospital patient.

Proposed Hand-Washing System within the Context of a Hospital

Proposed Hand-Washing System within the Context of a Hospital

Starting in the lower left, visitors are informed via a digital display about the level of cleanliness (approximated percentage) of the room that they are visiting. As they enter, a motion sensor detects the number of people entering the room.

In order for the level of cleanliness to be at 100%, each visitor must wash their hands at least once. This system does not take into account scenarios where there may be more than one simultaneous visitor, which is why the percentage on the display is an approximation (one visitor may wash their hands more than another during a visit).

Similar to the system that we prototyped, the hand wash pump and the hand sanitizer both have sensors connected to them. Once the pumps have been pushed, the system acknowledges that a visitor’s hands have been washed. There may also be a motion sensor attached to the faucet that complements the hand wash soap pump. This would be set up to detect the recommended 30 seconds of hand wash required to fully disinfect one’s hands.

The accumulated data is pushed out to a server/database where it is then passed to family members and friends that may be tracking the status of the room. it is also forwarded to the nurse’s station within the ward. If the level of hand washing drops below a certain level, people tracking the data are sent a notification either to their mobile device or to their desktop.

This proposed system is an attempt to make everyone visiting a patient’s room accountable for their hand washing habits. By quantifying this activity, actors within the system are made aware of how they affect the system. As mentioned by Katherine Ellingson,  an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, “If hospitals can identify wards that have problems or wards that are doing very well, they can learn where the gaps are or how people have found a way to get adherence up. And when people have data, they pay attention. The CEO may pay attention. The health workers themselves will pay attention if you provide data on their performance.” (NYTimes, “Better Hand-Washing Through Technology”).

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  • 24 May 2011

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