How Microsoft Is Helping Make Hospitals Cleaner – TIME

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The last time you visited the bathroom, you washed your hands, right? You don’t have to tell me—you know the answer. And soon, so might the cloud.

Microsoft and Gojo, the makers of Purell, teamed up to study whether cloud-based technology could help improve hand sanitization at hospitals. That’s important stuff: For medical professionals, having clean hands helps prevent the spread of infections at hospitals. A 2011 study of those infections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted more than 720,000 cases, ranging from pneumonia to bloodstream illnesses. That year alone, 75,000 patients died as a result of these highly preventable infections.

The results of the study, which took place in 2012 at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth Texas, were revealed Wednesday at a Microsoft event in New York City. The findings reveal how powerful a tool the cloud can be, even in unexpected places.

To measure the rate of hand washing, an activity counter, which monitored the flow of traffic in and out of a room, was paired with sensor-laden soap or sanitizer dispensers. These sensors were installed in medical, surgery, and infectious disease units throughout the hospital. And all of the numbers were crunched via Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. Researchers could view the data live via the web and on mobile devices.

At the beginning of the study, the system collected baseline figures over 10 days, tabulating a hand washing compliance rate of 16.5%. That’s the percentage of times that healthcare workers sanitized themselves versus how many opportunities they had to do so. Then, over the next 80 days, workers, patients, and even hospital visitors were informed of the study, in the hopes that people would consciously choose to scrub up as much as possible. Over that period, compliance rates jumped to 31.7%. Over the final 50 days, a post-study assessment tracked how much people cleaned up, even though they were no longer being reminded. It seems the lesson stuck, because the compliance rate wound up at 25.8%.

Even anonymized, this data was wildly valuable. The system was able to detect 90,000 hand washing opportunities, a number that human auditors would have a hard time matching. Applied across more hospitals, this could have a huge impact on sanitization in hospitals, potentially reducing the number of infections. But even just in this one instance, hand washing soared 92% during the study period. In human terms, that means fewer infections — and quite possibly some lives saved.

“All this talk you’re hearing about the Internet of Things and cloud computing, but what good is it really doing for us?” says Microsoft’s Barb Edson, general manager of data platform and Internet of Things. “Well, here’s a very tangible example of how it’s helping keep us healthy in one of the highest-risk communicable disease environments we encounter, and often when we’re at our most vulnerable—the hospital.”

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