By Bahram Nour-Omid, Vitalacy Cofounder
While government agencies and healthcare organizations play important roles during states of emergency, the agility of startups provides a means to address immediate problems requiring innovative solutions. Right now, we’re seeing many private companies urgently working to develop COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, as well as to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other goods desperately needed by our courageous healthcare providers.
Startups are generally small businesses that do not have the red tape normally associated with larger organizations and government. For this reason, these entrepreneurial hubs can sometimes find an answer to a problem quickly. Startups are held accountable by their investors, whose capital is provided to solve a specific and pressing problem at hand.
When I founded Vitalacy, my intention was to find a way to reduce healthcare-acquired bacterial and viral infections, which can be caused by inadequate hand hygiene among healthcare workers. To achieve this goal, we developed an innovative hand hygiene compliance solution that electronically monitors the use of soap and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout a hospital. This Bluetooth-enabled monitoring technology gathers compliance data that empowers individual care providers, care units and hospitals to improve the safety and wellbeing of both patients and workers.
Hand hygiene, social distancing, testing and PPE – our only current defenses against COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly increased awareness of the importance of hand washing, both among health care workers and the general population. Up until now, the value of washing with soap and water has been grossly underestimated. Soap breaks down the fatty membranes surrounding and protecting these pathogens, turning them into particles that dissolve in water. Within the hospital setting, hand sanitizers supplement soap and water to enable care providers to wash according to the World Health Organization’s five hand hygiene moments, as sanitizer dispensers are located in or near each patient’s room and these gels do not require the use of water.
Everyone has been advised to practice social distancing, and this precaution is taking place within healthcare settings among care providers, as well. With a global shortage of PPE, healthcare workers must often reuse their supplies. The general public is now being advised to devise their own face masks for use when going for groceries or doing other essential tasks.
With the delay in testing for the COVID-19 virus, some experts have begun to advocate for COVID-19 antibody testing to identify individuals who may be immune, at least temporarily, to coronavirus infection. This idea is based upon the assumption that the number of individuals in our society who have been infected by COVID-19 is much higher than the number verified by testing so far. Those found to have antibodies in their blood could safely return to work and begin to build our society’s herd immunity. This free article from The Economist provides an excellent explanation of antibody testing and its current developmental status.
We must find new ways to protect healthcare workers and patients from contagions
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are angels for the risks that they're taking; they are placing their own lives at risk to save others. Their well-being is very important, and we must develop ways to protect them now and start to prepare for future epidemics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a difficult lesson about the importance of keeping our front-line care providers safe with the proper equipment. As a result of delays in COVID-19 testing and shortages of PPE, our medical care providers are being overwhelmed by sick patients and many providers are becoming sick, as well, depleting their ranks at the time of greatest need.
Unfortunately, the potential exposure to bacteria and viruses within hospitals, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, have made these care facilities dangerous to many patients. As our society recovers from the pandemic, I hope healthcare organizations begin to place a greater emphasize on the importance of basic hygiene.
While Vitalacy’s electronic hand hygiene monitoring is one positive step in that direction, I also believe that our patient safety platform can help hospitals to monitor for nurse fatigue and to design workflow in a way that minimizes worker exposure to patients suffering from infectious disease and that makes the provision of health care overall more effective.
Vitalacy will continue to focus on patient and healthcare worker safety while maintaining the agility needed to be innovative during a time of great adversity and need. We join the rest of the world in hoping and praying that our healthcare workers soon receive the protection they need, as they work to save those of us who have become ill.
These professionals are our last line of defense in a troubled world. At Vitalacy, we will continue to use technology to make healthcare environments safer for them and the patients they serve.