The MedTech fight against disease:  UV light hand scanner that detects bacteria

by Antonia Alalitei


Nowadays, we are curing diseases in surprising ways, with wonderful technological breakthroughs everyday, but what about HAIs(Hospital-Acquired Infections)? Since the first attempts of infection prevention in medical clinics, much progress has been made in defining and implementing hand hygiene procedures all over the world.

However, efficacy and compliance are still severely affecting hospital performances in terms of avoiding the spread of these diseases: billions of euros are spent annually and so recklessly on the treatment of HAIs, when all it takes to prevent them is the effective and compliant sanitizing of hands following the guidelines defined by the World Health Organization on Hand Hygiene in Health Care, based on world-wide statistical analyses. If the way to prevent these diseases is so simple, how come these requirements are not met? What is the point that needs improvement and how can we fix it?


A historical evolution of hand sanitation


In the mid 1800s, Ignaz Semmelweis was appointed house officer in one of the two obstetric clinics in Vienna. There, he observed that one clinic had substantially higher mortality rates than the other. He also took note of how many doctors and medical students would enter the delivery room right after performing an autopsy, with an unpleasant scent on their hands persevering even after washing them with soap and water. Semmelweis then proposed that doctors should rub their hands in a chlorinated solution before moving on to another patient, so that the “cadaverous particles” would not transfer and spread disease. This method reduced the mortality rate in the clinic to only 3%.

Even with this positive evidence of improvement, it took a great amount of time to convince the doctor community to take in these sanitation methods, the error of Semmelweis having been imposing this approach, rather than consulting the medical community on the best way forward.


What is the main impediment nowadays?


The grand majority of the population is well aware of the importance of hand sanitation on a day-to-day basis. Intuitively, the highlighted importance of this measure in a hospital is evident. Every member of the medical staff is required to sanitize their hands with a special sanitation agent when moving from patient to patient. Trainings are conducted periodically to ensure the correct method of hand sanitation is well known and applied. However, implementation is still lagging behind. Why does this happen?

The two main factors that contribute to the correct implementation of hand hygiene are efficacy and compliance. The former refers to how meticulously well are the hand hygiene procedures applied by an individual, while the latter refers to the amount of times these procedures are actually implemented when they would be required to. How many times have each one of us washed our hands for less than 20 seconds, which should be the minimum time to ensure clean hands? How many times have we forgotten to wash our hands at all before eating or after using our computer?

Forgetfulness is a human mistake, and so are fluctuations in meticulousness. This means that, on the long run, regardless of the amount of campaigns and guidelines pushing for hand sanitation, human error will still quite substantially bring down the success rate.


Biomedical engineering to the rescue: a hand hygiene scanner


Back in 2010, an enthusiastic group of graduates of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics joined the world-wide movement of fighting Hospital-Acquired Diseases by creating a scanner that would determine to what level are the hands contaminated. Almost 10 years later, after prototype improvements and international support and recognition, their device is available on the market and used in hospitals worldwide in order to objectively assess and manage the cleanliness of hands of employees and not only, the scanner being also used by patients and visitors.

Hand-in-scan, as it is now called, works by using a camera and UV light to scan the hands’ state. Certain wavelengths of light hit the hands and they bounce back towards the emitter depending on what they have found on the hands. Therefore, if bacteria is found, the waves that hit it will be delayed with respect to the waves that hit clean hands, and the device will impeccably record the response across the entire hand surface. All the acquired data will be stored and could also serve for long term progress and improved management. As the device creators aim for hand sanitation, the device is capable of biometric recognition, such that each user is recognized and the hands-free usage is enabled.


Extensive implementation solutions


How could we ensure that the scanner achieves its purpose? Back in 2018, a device just like Hand-in-scan was displayed in the Satu Mare County Hospital of Romania, within an attempt to raise awareness of the importance of efficacy and compliance in achieving hand sanitation, while celebrating the International Day of Hand Hygiene. The first Pediatric Oncology Hospital in Romania will raise the standards even more, by linking the scanning success to the allowance of access in the patient therapy room. Unless the user is not marked as “clean”, access will not be granted. The installation of such devices across the US and Europe has shown a dramatic 30% reduction in Hospital-Acquired Diseases, news that gives hope towards reaching the desired hygiene standard in hospitals.

Not only this scanner is effective in the medical field, but it has shown potential of applications in other fields. A regional initiative in Romania proposed that such scanners be implemented in schools, where biology teachers could guide the pupils into using the devices, which has proven successful among the children, who became more responsible with washing their hands. Such devices, such as PathSpot, have also been implemented in restaurants to prevent foodborne illness, functioning to break the same bad habits that manifest within hospitals and medical clinics.

Should this initiative become standardized across all of these fields and not only, we could indeed reach the 200 years long dream of Semmelweis, with the help of new technologies that are simply always objective, thus always responsible for the accurate implementation of hand hygiene procedures.