How Dispenser Sensors Provide Deep Insights Into How to Improve Patient Safety

Updated: Sep 12

By Janel Nour-Omid, CEO and Cofounder

During a recent work group meeting with a hospital client, Vitalacy reviewed a month’s worth of data gathered by dispenser sensor tags adhered to hand sanitizers in patient care units. These modest looking, silver dollar-sized sensor tags monitor the time and day of every activation event. These sensors gained the following October hand wash data:

"These are data I've never seen before" - Hospital Client

  • 416,108 hand washes (71% Alcohol 29% Soap)

  • 553 average hand washes per hour

  • 36% of all hand washes happened in the Emergency Room

  • The locations of the most and least commonly used dispensers

  • Peak hand washing time - 9 a.m.

A relatively small amount of alcohol and soap dispenser data spurred important questions about the hospital’s patient safety culture and informed infection prevention about trends happening when no one was looking; the answers to these questions become the first steps toward performance improvement. Data as robust, descriptive and credible as these cannot be gained by direct observation, only by electronic monitoring.

Much more interesting than the data was the work group discussion that occurred afterward.

Work groups turn data into positive, sustainable change

The work groups that Vitalacy organizes at each client’s organization broadly represent constituencies within a hospital that have a material stake in the sustainable improvement of clinical outcomes; these constituencies include clinicians, quality and safety staff, facilities management, and operations. We have found that the participation of these professionals is what turns the data into the information and insights required to build reliable and effective patient care systems.

For example, caregivers with another hospital client provided feedback and ideas that helped Vitalacy develop ways to evolve and enhance its patient safety platform. Noting that the Vitalacy platform can track the movement of caregivers through their work day, a work group participant asked if the system could track when and for how long care providers interacted in patient rooms. Her question rose from a concern about the high fall rate among severely immunocompromised end-stage cancer patients at the medical center.

This question led to the development of Vitalacy’s purposeful nurse rounding data module, which was implemented for the first time at this medical center. The module identifies which staff member completed rounding in each room, at what time, and for how long. By viewing activity by staff and room, managers can ensure that caregivers get alerts when patients have not been visited when necessary and can identify high- and low-performing staff to target education and training. The timing and frequency of visits can be set for patients and adjusted to alert for higher-risk patients.

Work groups must ask “why?” and “how do we improve?”

During a recent roundtable discussion with a physician and one of our board members, we discussed how work groups can translate credible, descriptive data into valuable information that supports process improvement. Vitalacy’s technology produces the data but the data are only a matrix that needs to be filled with deep inquiry and insight. The data are the “who, what, when and where” but the work group members must ask “why?” and “how do we improve?” Then, and only then, does the descriptive data become a force for change – a force that can be used to initiate, improve and sustain patient safety improvements.

Descriptive, credible data serve as the foundation for an improved safety culture

When we started Vitalacy, we originally positioned ourselves as a company that does hand hygiene compliance monitoring to reduce healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) (Vitalacy, 2019). Then, we found other patient safety applications for our technology – workflow improvement and purposeful rounding to prevent healthcare-acquired conditions (HACs) such as falls, pressure ulcers and deep vein thrombosis, as well as nurse fatigue scoring to identify caregivers with symptoms of burnout.

Now, we are finding ourselves increasingly in the position of providing the credible data our clients need to baseline and measure their patient safety initiatives, to build highly reliable patient care systems, and to improve their patient safety performance on a broad range of measures including hand hygiene, HAI and HAC prevention, nurse fatigue and burnout avoidance, and more.

The information we help our customers gain becomes a force for positive change, a path toward operational improvement.


Vitalacy, Inc. Finding new ways to prevent healthcare-acquired infections and conditions. Mar. 14, 2019.

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