There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who carry around tiny containers of hand sanitizer, and those who consider people who carry around containers of hand sanitizer germaphobe freaks. But the PullClean, a new hospital door handle with a built-in sanitizer lever, leaves few excuses to avoid a spritz.
The CDC calculates that one in every 25 people who enter a hospital leave (or stay longer) with a hospital-related infection. In 2011, 772,000 people in the United States contracted diseases from a hospital, the most common of which was pneumonia. Roughly 11% of those infections turn fatal. But many hospitals still lack a trusty method to ensure everyone’s taking the appropriate protection measures—sometimes, doctors and nurses running around a busy ward can simply forget.
To monitor proper hand sanitizing, a hospital might take one of two steps: A human monitor that hovers over the sanitizer stations, or remote monitors, like RFID chips, that can be quite expensive to install. PullClean, however, will likely go for the $200 range. The device, currently being manufactured in China, collects data on sanitizer use, too.
"It’s way better than someone standing there with a notepad," says Altitude Medical’s Jake McKnight, who, along with three doctors from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Oxford University, helped develop the product. "You can see changes over seasons or between hospitals, and you can see right down to the second. You can say, ‘Hey, you were working in this area over a period, and there were low rates of sanitization.’ That way you can encourage people as a team to sanitize their hands."
McKnight worked with a team at the U.K.’s Agency of Design to make using the PullClean a no-brainer, but also optional. "A lot of the early design work was about how much this was trying to force people's behavior," explains lead designer Rich Gilbert. "Our conclusion was actually where there's a will, there’s a way—if they don't want to use it, there's a way to jam the door open. The fundamental design principle is the least amount of mental effort required to do it."
That approach appears to work, at least according to one trial published in the American Journal of Infection Control. When John Hopkins researchers tested the PullClean at a ward in Baltimore, they found that "hand hygiene compliance" increased from 25% to 77%.
Still, the PullClean is arriving at an interesting time in assessing the value of hand sanitizers in general, some (but not all) of which contain anti-bacterial agents. The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing triclosan, a key ingredient in anti-bacterial soaps, that could be making powerful diseases resistant to antibiotics. But the PullClean takes all kinds of soaps—foam, gels, and alcohol-based solutions, too. "We’re not a maker of sanitizer or soap products. We’ll use FDA-approved, effective sanitizer," McKnight says.