Technology Can Be Cause of, and Solution To, Hospital-Acquired Infections

Ryan Black

A company seeks to mitigate HAI risks with UV light docks for mobile devices.

Though hospital-acquired infections (HAI) may be becoming slightly less prevalent than they were in the past, they still represent a colossal expense to healthcare systems and a threat to the wellbeing of their patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at any given time one in 25 hospital patients is suffering from an HAI of some type, including surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, and bacterial infections like Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

(MRSA).

The transmissible bacterial infections, passed patient-to-patient via residual bacteria, may seem the most preventable: good cleaning protocol and record of that can go a long way. Human error and stretched time and resources, however, contribute to their continued prevalence in hospitals. Strides are being made against them, particularly with the use of ultraviolet (UV) light. In a study released in late 2016 that was conducted in a University of Pennsylvania hospital, researchers supplemented normal disinfection protocols with the use of UV-C disinfection robots following 21% of patient discharges over the course of the year. Subsequent patients in these rooms had a 25% reduction in incidence of C. difficile infection, while the units that just used standard cleaning methods actually saw an increase of 16%.

That study estimated that the use of such devices, which added only a few minutes to cleaning protocol, could save the hospital between $350,000 and $1.5 million annually in healthcare costs. The prevalence of more and more innovative technology in hospital spaces can, however, create additional problems.

“Hospitals are deploying patient-centric applications which take tablet-based applications and put them directly in the hands of patients,” says David Engelhardt, founder and president of a company that seeks to preempt the risk of HAI spreading from new mobile technology. He spoke to MD Magazine in an interview at HIMSS17 in Orlando, Florida. “So imagine you’re Patient A and you’re going to get a tablet and it’s going to ask you a series of questions, or it may just provide you access to a medical record, or it may just be an entertainment tool for you to use at the bedside. It’s a great and extremely enabling and important technology for a lot of different reasons, but what happens with Patient B? We all know that tablets, phones, all mobile devices carry lots and lots of bacteria, and in many cases the same type of bacteria that’s causing hospital-acquired infections.”

He points out that it isn’t only hospital-owned medical tablets that pose a risk: whether it’s a clinician, vendor, or patient’s personal or work device, once it enters the space it has the potential of being a source of bacteria. The company he founded, ReadyDock, makes a docking unit for such devices to disinfect them automatically.

“ReadyDock bathes mobile devices, their entire surface, in germicidal light, which is UV light…In our laboratory tests in microbiology labs, we’ve killed MRSA, VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci) and C. difficile. The beauty of UV disinfection is it’s indiscriminate in relationship to what it’s trying to kill,” Engelhardt says, “We’ve leveraged that technology…to give hospitals tools to really effectively disinfect mobile devices without having to rely on the variability of a user’s capabilities or, quite frankly, time constraints.”

The previously-mentioned University of Pennsylvania study, though very different in scale and nature, did not find the same impact on MRSA that Engelhardt claims. The company hopes to soon have clinical data to supplement its own testing, but already received a votes of confidence: about 60 hospitals nationwide currently deploy it, and it has struck a partnership with Samsung to marry the disinfecting platform with a personal-data clearing platform that the tech giant acquired in order to “sanitize devices inside-and-out.”

“This just goes to speak to our mission, and that is to not just help hospitals address the HIA issue, but also do it in a way that combines workflows so that they don’t have to do things twice, they don’t have to add three steps to every process,” says Engelhardt, “These are very busy people, they are taking care of our lives, and it’s our job to deliver technologies that enable them to stay focused on the important things.”