Hand sanitizers were just a start. Now St. Paul's Ecolab deploys black light and iPods to help hospitals prevent surgical infections.
Ecolab’s EnCompass O.R. Monitoring Program uses DAZO fluorescent marking gel, left, to measure the thoroughness of disinfection cleaning on critical surfaces. Information on surface cleanliness is captured on an iPod, right, and sent to a database for further review and improvement.
Ecolab Inc. is stepping up its presence in the operating room, selling a new service that helps hospitals reduce the number of surgical infections.
The package offers medical facilities a blueprint for how to clean and inspect the areas where pathogens are commonly transmitted. Ecolab also remotely monitors treatment areas so they stay sanitized.
"This is all about putting an infection-prevention process into place that can be repeated over and over by the hospital," said Paul Chaffin, senior vice president of Ecolab's North America health care business.
The move positions Ecolab to move beyond its long-established line of hand sanitizers. Its products have already been used to clean operating rooms, but its efforts to educate and monitor hospitals opens a new business channel.
Ecolab provides the hospitals with a patented fluorescent marking gel and a black light to detect contamination on hard surfaces. It also supplies an iPod with an app that allows the hospital to transmit the monitoring results to Ecolab, which compiles the data into a report and sends it back to the hospital.
The St. Paul-based company said the service is similar to an initiative it started 10 months ago to improve hygiene in patient rooms. Both efforts show Ecolab's eagerness to capitalize on the growing needs of the medical segment, where health-care-related infections can add $28 billion to $33 billion a year to patients' costs, according to the federal government. Ecolab doesn't break out its health care revenue and declined to disclose how much hospitals pay for its services.
The programs involve identifying common places where pathogens reside and training hospital staff on which products and methods are best for cleaning them.
Seattle Children's Hospital, which has used the patient room program, said it previously used visual inspections to determine their cleanliness, said Mitch Birchfield, director of environmental services. He said using the fluorescent gel and black light "makes the invisible visible."
About 95 percent of frequently touched objects in rooms, like doorknobs, bed rails and light switches at the Seattle hospital, are now free of contamination, vs. about 70 percent before it started using the program, Birchfield said. The hospital recently adopted the operating room service, he added.
Ecolab isn't the only local company taking steps to expand its presence in the health care infection control market.
Earlier this year, 3M Co. and a group of 80 infection-prevention specialists released a report on how to fight hospital infections. The Maplewood-based company also built on its infection-prevention strategy with the 2010 purchase of Eden Prairie-based Arizant Inc., which makes blankets to prevent hypothermia, a common cause of infection in surgical patients.
Golden Valley-based Tennant Co. is in the early stages of commercializing a technology that converts water to a solution that kills staph, E. coli and other bacteria. Rogers-based Activeion licensed the technology for use in spray bottles, but Tennant is exploring ways to expand it into the health care market.
Ecolab's hand sanitizers, foams and surgical instrument cleaners are commonly used in hospitals. In 2008 the company introduced an antiseptic bathing kit that lets patients sterilize their bodies before surgery. In 2007, it paid $247 million for Microteck Medical, a maker of infection-barrier drapes for medical equipment and patients.
Through its new program Ecolab is recommending some long-established products for cleaning hard surfaces like light covers, telephones and floors. One of Ecolab's new offerings is a line of single-use microfiber mops and wipes, Chaffin said.
"A hospital can see from day to day, from operating room to operating room how it is doing," Chaffin said. "For hospital systems, they can see if one hospital is doing better than another and what needs to be done to improve performance."
Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723