Infonaut’s product, HospitalWatchLive, tracks the interaction of patients, staff and assets in hospital settings, providing evidence to better understand and control the spread of infections.
MaRS Market Intelligence spoke with Niall Wallace, Founder of Infonaut.
How did you come up with the idea for this product?
Infonaut was founded in 2006 and was focused at that time on healthcare and data visualization. We got involved in the SARS response by doing things like mapping quarantine cases. We got really good at tracking diseases through this type of work. Fast forward to 2009 and Infonaut was asked to help a hospital that was experiencing a superbug outbreak. They wanted us to help them get a handle on what was going on inside their hospital building. Up until that point, we had only been working on the movement of disease in the outside world.
So how did you tackle the tracking of disease inside a building?
We focused on the movements and locations of patients, staff and assets. For example, people not washing their hands, people moving around, assets being moved around and so forth. Diseases are essentially spread through these types of human behaviours. When two things come together, that’s when you have a chance for a disease to make a leap.
Our technology is able to monitor down to about eight inches where everything is in a hospital. For example, we put our tracking technology inside of gel dispensers. When a doctor comes in contact with a gel dispenser, we get a positive signal that gel has been dispensed.
Why do you need to track hand washing? Is it not mandatory within hospitals?
Everybody reports 90% hand washing compliance within a hospital, but our best guess is that it only happens about 40% of the time. If you consider a shift change at 3:00 a.m. on a long weekend, hand washing rates can drop as low as 10%.
It comes down to the fact that while everybody knows what they should be doing to prevent infection, they do not always follow through on it.
Is this seen as being too Big Brother?
This is something we considered early on, that we were delivering a product that could be considered Big Brother. Especially since we have expertise on our team on surveillance systems, and how they overwhelmingly fail. If people feel like they’re under surveillance, they will find ways to defeat the system.
With HospitalWatchLive, we focus on preventing infections and protecting hospital staff. We are not interested in analyzing any other types of behaviour with the data we collect. We work on communicating this benefit to the staff and helping them understand that their safety is our first priority. This is what really helps us in obtaining their support and engagement.
Any challenges with collecting this data?
The biggest challenge around data collection is the privacy requirements associated with personal health information. Part of me feels these privacy policies have created negative impediments to the building, design and delivery of value-added solutions. The other part of me understands why they are necessary.
Overall, I feel the pendulum has swung too far. Patient data has gone from being on a clipboard at the end of a bed, which anybody walking through the room could access, to being part of an enormous system with complex algorithms to protect the information and access to it.
However, rather than trying to affect change in the area of privacy, we treat it as a necessary requirement and simply work around it.
How does data visualization fit into your product?
The data we collect is visually overlaid on a map of the hospital. This provides evidence of how infectious disease is actually being spread within the building. The visualizations tend to be a bit of eye candy to engage audiences and provide them with an understanding of what the data shows.
That being said, I think visualizations by themselves have little value if you do not act on what the data tells you. With HospitalWatchLive, what becomes more important than the data analysis is the ability to drive behavioural change among staff to limit the spread of infectious disease. The data alone will not be able to do that.
Where do you see Infonaut heading as a company?
Our goal is to leave behind the pure health IT play and to become more of a knowledge organization by assuming some responsibility for change management. We may also reach the point where we give away our software for free so that we can charge for the knowledge services, which is essentially the “so what” part that follows data visualization. This is where hospitals are going to get the most value out of what we do.
Where is HospitalWatchLive being used today?
It is being used at Toronto General Hospital, on two floors in the multi-organ transplant unit. Patients in this unit are at the highest risk for infection because they are on immunosuppressive drugs and are an older population. Even though staff are a lot more vigilant in keeping these patients protected, without our solution these patients would still have a higher-than-normal incidence of infections.
And finally, what are some of your favourite visualizations?
I really like the visualization of Napoleon’s march across Russia. It does a great job of conveying complex information in a way that can be easily consumed.
I would also have to give credit to my iPhone, which is designed in such a thoughtful and elegant way when it comes to retrieving information. Apple, in general, has done a great job in trying not to overwhelm users with too much information when using their products.