ICBioethics Blog 

Health Technology Update: intelligentM

Written by: Aimee Zellers

Most of us who work in healthcare know the story of Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865), the Hungarian physician who pioneered the use of antiseptic procedures in medicine. For those of you who don’t know the story, here are the highlights.

Semmelweis noticed the high mortality rate of mothers giving birth who died due to puerperal fever. Transmission of the fever was not uncommon in hospitals during the 1800’s, and resulted in mortality rates of 10-35%. He hypothesized that washing hands in a chlorinated solution before interacting with mothers about to give births would lower this mortality rate. At Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, he put his theory to the test. In this particular clinic, the morality was three times higher than in other mid-wife wards. As it turns out, physicians were working with cadavers and then delivering babies, without washing or sanitizing any part of their body or clothes. After he introduced the concept of washing hands, the mortality rate dropped to single digit percentages.

Semmelweis published his results and conclusions in a book called Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Unfortunately for Semmelweis, since his views and theory were not congruent with medical and scientific beliefs of the mid-19th century, his work was largely rejected by the medical community. It wasn’t until after his death, that Louis Pasteur proved germ theory and Semmelweis’ theory became widely accepted. He was dubbed the “savior of mothers.”

Why bother bringing up this old history lesson? There’s an easy answer; innovations in sanitary practices still continue today! A start-up company called intelligentM is trying to accomplish a similar objective to Ignaz Semmelweis. They are trying to get healthcare workers to ensure that they are cleaning their hands frequently and effectively. intelligentM has developed a bracelet device that monitors who washes their hands, how frequently, and whether the wash was thorough or not. The bracelet vibrates when the individual wearing it has washed and scrubbed sufficiently. This lets the wearer know that their hands are now sufficiently clean. The wristband reads RIDF tags at hospital washing stations and downloads the data through a microUSB on the wristband. It also has the added benefit of generating reports to let employers, especially hospital epidemiologists, know who is washing correctly and who is not.

While puerperal fever may not be the greatest concern in modern hospitals, there are still an array of dangerous infections patients can contract during their hospital stay. Each year in the US, around 100,000 individuals contract an infection from a hospital visit and die as a result. A number of these infections occur as a result of improper washing on the part of the healthcare worker. The CDC says that up to 70% of hospital acquired infections can be prevented through improved hygiene. If these deaths can be prevented, we have an ethical duty to do so. This is truly a patient safety issue. intelligentM is one of many companies trying to address these issues, by providing an innovative way to approach patient safety issues through technology.

Check out this video about intelligentM and its benefits here

Mitch GennusoComment