Three years ago, Seth Freedman heard some jaw-dropping statistics about hospital-acquired infections: One in 20 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals will acquire an infection, and an estimated 99,000 of those infections annually will result in death.
One number, though, “made the entrepreneurial hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he says: “Up to 70 percent of those infections could be reduced by getting health care workers to wash their hands correctly.”
So Freedman, 46, founded IntelligentM with the help of technologist Dave Mullinix and local neurosurgeon Andrew Fine. The team invented small, wrist-worn devices that communicate with smart tags, which can be placed on sanitation dispensers and room entrances. The tags monitor hand washing, taking 800 3-D readings per second, to ensure proper cleansing. The device vibrates once to signal completion; if the employee stops before meeting FDA requirements, it vibrates three times. When entering or exiting a patient’s room, the device can also vibrate to suggest washing hands or putting on gloves.
Data is collected and sent to a central hub, so administrators can improve sanitation education. “We’re modifying behavior in real time,” says Freedman. Six facilities have committed to installation by the end of the year; additional facilities in the U.K. and Singapore have committed to the first quarter of 2014. Freedman is forecasting two dozen facilities—half domestic and half abroad—by this time next year. -Beau Denton