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Are your doc's hands clean? App tracks the answer

iScrub Lite 1.5, an iPhone and iPod Touch app developed by researchers at the University of Iowa, makes monitoring hand hygiene compliance more efficient and accurate.

Studies on hand-washing adherence are often nauseating. A lot of people seem to rarely wash their hands, even after leaving a bathroom. Several recent studies on hand hygiene in hospital settings find a hand hygiene adherence rate of around 40 percent among health care workers. To tap my vast vocabulary: yuck.

The free iScrub Lite 1.5 hits the iTunes Store on Wednesday. University of Iowa

Let's see if a new iPhone and iPod Touch app makes a difference. Called the iScrub Lite 1.5, the free app released on the iTunes Store on Wednesday enables medical professionals to enter data on hand hygiene compliance, which has typically been accomplished via old-fashioned clipboards and note cards.

"The long-term goal of our research is to understand hand hygiene behavior and use the feedback to help improve rates," says Philip Polgreen, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa, where the app was developed. "This app can help standardize and streamline how observations are recorded."

In a nutshell, the app enables anyone who cares to monitor hand hygiene to record observational data, e-mail it as an Excel spreadsheet, follow World Health Organization compliance models, and customize data collection to reflect various locations, job roles, and notes.

The release date of May 5 coincides with the launch of the World Health Organization's 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene campaign, which is part of WHO's Save Lives: Clean Your Hands annual initiative. If you think all these campaigns and initiatives sound like overkill, consider that bad hand hygiene is a leading cause of preventable health care-related infections.

"We presented the concept at a meeting last year and pursued it after seeing excitement from infection control professionals," says Christopher Hlady, who built the original iScrub at the University of Iowa. "iScrub Pro is currently in pilot deployment on iPod Touches at University of Iowa hospitals and clinics, where we have installed a display, which frequently updates health care professionals with compliance statistics."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline for hand hygiene in health care recommends periodic monitoring of hand hygiene adherence by health care personnel and feedback to personnel. Let's hope the iScrub makes this monitoring easier, compelling more hospitals to monitor more frequently. Studies show people are more likely to wash when they know they're being watched.