Buddy Badge: A reliable friend that helps fight infection

Innovative device can double hand-hygiene compliance and reduce hospital-acquired infections

As the nurse steps across the threshold of a patient room, she feels a vibration across the front pocket of her hospital scrubs. She takes a step toward a hand sanitization dispenser, cleans her hands, and notices that both the dispenser and her Buddy Badge are glowing green confirming that the system has recorded her cleaning action.

The nurse has just had a successful interaction with Buddy Badge, an innovative product from a start-up company based at UHN's KITE Research Institute that has the potential to significantly reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections.

Each year more than 200,000 patients acquire infections while hospitalized and around 8,000 of those patients die, according to Government of Canada statistics. These infections are an even bigger problem in long-term care settings.

“I believe we have entered a new era of infection where viral epidemics will be more common and antibiotic resistance will make growing numbers of bacterial infections untreatable. This might be a challenge on the scale of global warming.” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, a Senior Scientist at the KITE Research Institute, the Creaghan Family Chair in Prevention and Healthcare Technologies, and a Professor in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto.

In an effort to increase health-care workers' hand washing frequency and reduce the spread of infections, Dr. Fernie began conducting research into hand hygiene technology around 2000.

“I have always been driven by the most common problems that appear to be the simplest to solve,” he says. “However, these apparently simple problems are always the most difficult to solve. A simple explanation of his apparent contradiction might be that if commonly encountered problems could be easily solved then someone would have found a solution before.”

After conducted research into various types of hand hygiene technologies, Dr. Fernie set out to develop a simple yet effective system and soon after the Buddy Badge was born. It's essentially a small device worn by frontline health-care workers that clips onto the front pocket of their scrubs and prompts them to clean their hands.

Initial product testing took place at Toronto Rehab's Bickle Centre, Lyndhurst Centre, and University Centre sites. Findings were published in more than 20 peer-reviewed papers and after prototype beta testing, Dr. Fernie found that implementation of the Buddy Badge in a care setting can double hand-hygiene compliance.

While Dr. Fernie was able to show the system was effective, he soon ran into another problem – figuring out how to integrate the hand-cleaning reminder or prompt in a positive way.

“It isn't just an engineering problem, it's a human challenge,” he said.

Dr. Fernie teamed up with Catharine Hancharek, COO of Hygienic Echo, a start-up company that manages and markets Buddy Badge, to solve the problem.

“We know that we needed to come at this research in a positive and kind way. This was a top priority because the badge is designed to be a ‘buddy' that can help staff, patients, and loved ones stay safe,” says Hancharek.

They designed the system to be as positive and friendly as possible so people would actually enjoy using Buddy Badge. The device keeps note of where and when a user completes a hand washing or sanitizing.

The goal is not to monitor hospital or long-term care home employees to see if they are washing their hands correctly. It simply offers a friendly reminding to care – about their patients, their families, and even themselves.

“Take a moment to care because it changes the world. When you care, you wash your hands,” said Hancharek. “It isn't about ‘I don't have time,' it's ‘Can I afford to not wash my hands?' It's not that we're bad people, we're just so busy that we forget sometimes.

“The Buddy Badge is all about care because it reminds you to care.”

Learn more about Buddy Badge here.

KITE continues partnership with Centennial College

KITEworks Magazine is an annual collaborative project between Centennial College's Professional Writing-Communications and Photography programs and KITE. The stories, experiences and photographs shared in this year's edition of the magazine give an unfiltered look into how KITE has evolved to become a world leader in rehabilitation science. Come and explore how KITE works!