Experts agree: simply improving staff hand-washing habits could prevent these needless infections. While hospitals have plenty of communal sinks and hand-sanitizing dispensers, time-strapped caregivers simply don’t use them, and handwashing monitoring is still done manually with pen and paper. To figure out why compliance is so low, Northwestern University graduates Mert Iseri and Yuri Malina spent weeks observing staff at North Shore University Health System. They noticed medical staff wiped their hands on their scrubs, which led to an important insight for brainstorming possible solutions. In 2012 they founded SwipeSense, Inc. with the goal of incentivizing good hand-hygiene via smart, wearable gel dispensers and a web-based monitoring platform.
SwipeSense partnered with the innovation consultancy IDEO to prototype alternative products and approaches in both the physical and digital realm. The team worked together to test more than 70 design iterations. While the goal remained the same – eliminate hospital acquired infections – the scope of their project shifted and changed with each iteration. Beyond simply the hand sanitizer device itself, the team examined how providing more data about hand sanitization could provide added value to SwipeSense’s business, and the healthcare system at large.
Slider Image Sources: © IDEO / McCormick University / Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Why Iteration Was Important
Mert outlined SwipeSense’s four stages of iteration: The first step was recognizing a common habit: People wipe their hands on their pants to “clean” them. So Iseri and Malina came up with the idea of building upon that natural habit for a hand-sanitization solution. The team needed a quick, easy way to get the idea out of their minds into a tangible form, so for their first prototype, they chopped of the top of a deodorant stick and adhered it to their pants to wipe their hands. Then, they considered their users, the people who work in hospitals, and watched them engage with various prototypes to understand what worked and what didn’t work.
“It’s a process of going back and forth. You need to be humble enough to know that your first idea is probably a crappy idea,” Mert says and adds, “Only build as much as you need to get it out there, and not so much to and an answer but to ask to a better question.”
From observing users interact with their prototype, the team moved in a direction that was predicated on the action “swipe to squeeze.” They then designed the system around creating a gel dispenser with a function that provides sanitization data. At each stage, the questions changed and the scope of the project changed as well. Ultimately, the project wasn’t only about hand sanitization, but about the medical community at large.
As they continue to iterate prototypes, they continue designing toward the goal of something that’s viable, reliable, and commercially desirable. But as Mert insisted, “the job is not over until you’ve solved the problem. There’s no moment where there’s a final version because the universe is ever-changing, and we’ll always have to make our product more valuable.” While SwipeSense released a patent-pending system in 2013–a user- friendly design that clips easily onto hospital scrubs and records when users disinfect their hands–the team knows they’ll continue iterating. Their eventual goal: to save 100,000 lives lost each year.
As of 2016, SwipeSense is a software-as-service subscription model. Hospitals pay an annual fee for the hardware and the data it creates.
How The System Works Now
SwipeSense has become a complete system combining point-of-care hand hygiene dispensers with real-time data from existing dispensers: Hospital staff is provided with a portable, trackable hand sanitation device that dispenses alcohol gel with the swipe of a hand, while transmitting usage data wirelessly to a web-based application. This allows both point-of-care sanitation and real-time monitoring of staff hand hygiene rates.
The SwipeSense device attaches to any belt or garment and dispenses a consistent amount of FDA approved alcohol gel with the swipe of a hand. Each device carries a recyclable 40 mL cartridge of gel (enough for an average shift), along with embedded electronics that record usage data for each healthcare worker. SwipeSense hubs located in the hospital receive this data and transmit it to the web- based application, which allows for real-time benchmarking and transparency.