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Thermal Imaging Successfully Assesses Hand Hygiene Technique

Study foresees potential use of thermal cameras to monitor hand hygiene for health care.

September 22, 2022

According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), a recent study in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) suggests that portable thermal-imaging cameras might provide a new approach to assessing and improving hand hygiene practices among health care professionals.

The study explored the use of thermal imaging to determine if alcohol-based sanitizer had been applied to fingertips and thumbs. According to the report, these specific areas are often missed by health care personnel.

Temperature Identifies Sanitizer Use

A thermal camera attached to a smart phone was used to obtain thermal images of volunteers’ dominant hands before and after using an alcohol-based sanitizer. Temperature readings of the mid-palm area, and tips of the third finger and the thumb were recorded before and at multiple time points after sanitizing.

In 11 of 12 volunteers, thermal images confirmed a visual assessment of sanitizer coverage through significant decreases in mid-palm, finger, and thumb temperatures. When hand sanitizer was used without including the thumb, a lack of colorimetric temperature change in the thumb was visible. For volunteers with “cold” fingers at the baseline, assessing the alcohol-based sanitizer coverage was more difficult.

Potential Method of Hand Hygiene Assessment

The study concluded that thermal imaging showed promise for the assessment of proper hand hygiene compliance. It further stated that additional studies involving a larger number of persons under varying conditions are needed to establish thermal imaging for practical use.

“Effective hand hygiene is recognized as the single most important act to prevent the transmission of potentially pathogenic microbes in the health care setting, but there is no widely adopted method for assessing the effectiveness of healthcare professionals’ hand hygiene technique,” said Dr. John Boyce, M.D., a study author. “Our study shows that thermal imaging shows promise as an approach that warrants additional research to determine if it can be used for routine monitoring of hand hygiene technique to improve patient care.” 

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