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Meet Chris Hermann of Clean Hands – Safe Hands in Midtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Hermann.

Chris, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Back in 2008, I was in a dual-degree graduate program, working on both a Ph.D. in Bioengineering at Georgia Tech and a Medical Degree from Emory Medical School. I learned about the problem of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and how hand hygiene is a major contributor. A physician asked me if I could help develop a solution to the problem. My reply was, “Sure – that seems simple enough.” Needless to say, the issue of hand hygiene is surprisingly complex – there’s nothing simple about it!

Over the next seven years, I formed and led a multi-institution research consortium that developed the core technology utilized in the Clean Hands – Safe Hands System. The research team included investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

The research team secured and executed more than eight state and federal research grants totaling over $3.2M. Unlike most clinical research grants, these projects were heavily focused on rapid iteration engineering development and completely driven by the real world needs of clinicians.

In 2014, we licensed the technology back and formed Clean Hands – Safe Hands. The startup became a member of the ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center – Georgia Tech’s incubator). It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since! In 2017, we received funding from S.C. Johnson, which has allowed us to scale more rapidly.

Has it been a smooth road?
The journey of all tech startups – especially in the healthcare space – is a wild roller coaster! It’s exciting; it’s hard work; it’s thoroughly exhausting… and this flip-flops hour by hour! One unexpected challenge was how the simple concept of getting people to clean their hands was actually a massively complex challenge to grow a company around.

We’re trying to change clinicians’ behavior without disrupting their ability to care for patients. And navigating the current healthcare environment as an early stage company is a lot of hard work.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Clean Hands – Safe Hands story. Tell us more about the business.
Just about everybody knows someone who has gone into a hospital for something routine and caught an infection while there and gotten much sicker. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) affect about one out of 25 patients in the US annually, around 750,000 people a year according to the CDC. Ten percent of these, or around 75,000 people, will die needlessly each year. Even the survivors are often impacted negatively for the rest of their lives, and HAIs cost the healthcare industry around $30 billion a year.

The main reason HAIs happen is that doctors, nurses and other technicians don’t always clean their hands between patients. They’re supposed to sanitize or wash their hands 100% of the time that they enter or exit patient rooms (and some other times while they’re in the room, depending on what they’re doing), but they actually do so about 30%-40% of the time on average. They’re not bad people – they’re just typically overworked and in a rush.

Our electronic hand hygiene reminder system monitors clinicians’ visits to patient rooms, and if they forget to clean their hands, our Real-Time Voice Reminder™ provides a gentle reminder. It works – hand hygiene typically doubles or even triples. Even better, 100% of the hospitals that have installed our technology and used our process for at least six months have seen a drop in HAIs of between 45% and 81%. So we are saving lives, reducing human suffering, and saving healthcare costs.

I’m proud of the fact that we have a meaningful higher purpose. I’m also proud of the fact that we are such a positive and supportive place to work. We have the requisite beer fridge, free snacks, Nerf guns, hammock, dogs in the office, flexible hours, and unlimited PTO… but that’s not the only reason we were just named to the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Best Places to Work” list. It’s also because we’re like a family – we support each other and we all jump in to help our teammates when they need it. Everyone has a voice here and is listened to, from interns on up.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I see our industry exploding over the next 2-5 years. The way hospitals monitor hand hygiene performance today is through “secret shoppers” lurking in hallways with a clipboard, making a note of who cleans their hands and who doesn’t. There are so many problems with this method that all combine to systematically overestimate hand hygiene. There’s the tiny sample size of data, a whole host of human biases, and even the Hawthorne Effect, where people change their behavior because they inevitably figure out they’re being watched.

Using technology to measure hand hygiene performance – and to remind people to improve it – is not only much more successful, but it’s cost-effective as well, with a huge return on investment. It just makes sense. And we can do so much more with the data than just had hygiene. We can touch on the patient experience – how often are patients being visited, by clinicians as well as friends and family, and how long do visitors stay with them? Are there workflow bottlenecks in a particular hospital unit or room that can be solved to make everyone more efficient? Can we tell who was in a room prior to a TB outbreak, a fall, or medication going missing? Did the UV robot that was supposed to decontaminate a room after a patient was discharged really make it to the room and spend the requisite time sanitizing?

What we’re really excited about are our predictive analytics. Our system measures hand hygiene by patient room, and we know which rooms have patients in isolation or who have C. diff, which is a really bad bug that’s resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A few hours into a shift, the system makes note of any rooms where hand hygiene is below a particular threshold, especially if it’s an isolation or C. diff room. It automatically texts the unit manager so they can take a look and see what’s happening in that room. This allows them to nip any problems in the bud before they have a chance to spread.

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