Uutiset

A biotech engineer's entrepreneurial contribution to saving lives

Mina Legnered
16.10.2014 - 17:15
Photo of Tamás Haidegger

Think you have washed your hands properly? Check again. 

Safe healthcare is the cornerstone of a high-quality health system and a recognised fundamental right for European citizens. Last parliamentary term, the EPP Group led a piece of patient safety legislation through parliament, which aimed to improve hospitalisation and post-hospitalisation of European citizens.

The report included the prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections and called on Member States to continue efforts towards the introduction of European classifications on patient safety or the definition of European guidelines on patient safety, particularly in the field of patient empowerment and education of health professionals and auxiliaries in the broadest sense. But SMEs and entrepreneurs also have a huge role to play.

Supporting innovative SMEs

Yesterday, on Global Handwashing Day, we spoke with inventor and entrepreneur Tamás Haidegger, a young Hungarian, who is doing his bit for safer healthcare with his invention Hand-in-Scan, a novel hand-hygiene control system for the direct and objective evaluation of hand-rubbing.

The need for better compliance of medical staff with sanitary standards provided the impetus for Tamás’ medical device, which is now available on the market: “The original idea came from my former student and now colleague, Ákos Lehotsky: he witnessed the terrible average compliance of medical staff and said ‘we are biomedical engineers, why can’t we design a system that helps people to improve their hand-hygiene performance?’”

This was the founding team, all engineers and under 35. Soon after, more friends joined the project, and now we are a happy team of 12 Tamás Haidegger

So they did, together with another expert image-processing colleague, László, his student Melinda and an old friend, Peter. “This was the founding team, all engineers and under 35. Soon after, more friends joined the project, and now we are a happy team of 12.”

For Tamás, the point was clear: “With a global device like this one, I could really affect people’s lives, a lot sooner than with the neurosurgical robot concepts that I was developing in those days.”

Preventing diseases through intensive hygiene

Tamás describes his innovation as a tech gadget, which “uses ultraviolet light, digital imaging and software algorithms to identify treated versus unaffected areas after regular hand-washing with a UV-dye enabled alcohol-based disinfectant. It has the unique capacity to provide objective and real-time hygiene feedback, via a smartphone app, on the efficacy of hand rubbing.”

Approximately 4 100 000 patients acquire a healthcare-associated infection every year and the number of deaths occurring as a direct consequence of these infections is at least 37 000

Indeed, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) such as urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections, infections after surgery or bloodstream infections are one of the most serious healthcare issues in the Western world and the 4th leading cause of death in the USA, as even gloves may only reduce contamination by 70–80%. According to WHO estimates, HAIs result in 1.4 million cases a day globally, leading to a quarter of a million unnecessary deaths a year in developed countries alone. In the EU, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimates that approximately 4 100 000 patients acquire a healthcare-associated infection every year and that the number of deaths occurring as a direct consequence of these infections is at least 37 000.

Effective hand-washing was shown to decrease healthcare-associated infections by 30%, at least

In cases of healthcare-associated infection, hospital stays extend by an average 16 days and mortality rates increase by 5 times.

Approximately 20-30% of HAIs could be avoided by intensive hygiene and control programmes. Preparing medical and nursing staff to comply with the best sanitary conditions and instructing patients on proper standards of conduct are therefore some of the key measures to significantly reduce the negative impact of hospital infections. As Tamás puts it: “Effective hand-washing was shown to decrease healthcare-associated infections by 30%, at least.”

Improving patient safety through in-built education and quality control

Tamás further explains that his device “teaches the validated WHO’s 6-step hand-washing protocol (part of the EN1500 norm and US CDC recommendation). With technology-aided education and objective verification, our solution can significantly reduce infections, decreasing direct and indirect HAI costs, or can provide integrated quality assurance for biotech laboratories, clean manufacturing sites (like the food industry) or cruise liners.”

Our solution can significantly reduce infections, decreasing direct and indirect HAI costs, or can provide integrated quality assurance for biotech laboratories, clean manufacturing sites (like the food industry) or cruise liners

Innovative tech and SMEs in the medical sector

As his example shows, many SMEs operate within the medical devices sector. This sector being a crucial one for Europe, the EPP Group supported updated EU medical devices legislation aiming to improve patient safety through regular scrutiny of manufacturers and to encourage greater industry innovation without the costly burden of red tape for smaller innovative companies.

Revised legislation improves patient safety and equally ensures that the industry keeps coming forward with innovative medical devices that add to the quality of people’s lives

By strengthening post-market surveillance and enhancing the traceability of products, MEPs made sure that the revised legislation improves patient safety and also ensures that the industry keeps coming forward with innovative medical devices that add to the quality of people’s lives.

With a global device like this one, I could really affect people’s lives, a lot sooner than with the neurosurgical robot concepts that I was developing in those days

EPP Group MEP Giovanni La Via, Chairman of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, is full of praise for Tamás Haidegger’s initiative: “His story proves how young Europeans can find innovative and effective solutions that can turn into concrete and successful entrepreneurial initiatives and that can also contribute to saving lives.”

Improving the sustainability of European healthcare systems

Boosting innovation, improving access to better and safer healthcare, improving the prevention of disease and protecting citizens from cross-border health threats: these are the four priorities that have been set out in the Third Programme of EU action in the field of health for the period 2014-2020, pushed through Parliament by EPP Group MEP Françoise Grossetête. The programme's objective is to concentrate on the main areas in which the European Union can bring real added-value in the field of health.

More emphasis should be put on innovations making healthcare cheaper and much more needs to be done on prevention

It is a programme that matches Tamás' expectations of EU politics in the field of health: “I believe that ‘sustainability’ is the keyword for determining the future direction of European healthcare and social security systems. More emphasis should be put on innovations making healthcare cheaper and much more needs to be done on prevention. As Benjamin Franklin wisely said: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!’. We need to educate all European citizens to take better care of their bodies, their general health and personal hygiene as well!”

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Benjamin Franklin

Grossetête managed to increase the budget allocated to the programme to nearly €450m, however resources remain limited. The challenge will therefore be to optimise the use of these funds to encourage innovation in the field of health and improve the sustainability of our healthcare systems in the interest of citizens.

Better anticipating the health challenges of tomorrow, for example those related to pandemics or antibiotic-resistant bacteria: these are huge issues that we have to anticipate at European level because Member States cannot tackle them on their own Françoise Grossetête

She urges “all health stakeholders to respond to calls for projects that will contribute to better anticipating the health challenges of tomorrow, for example those related to pandemics or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These are huge issues that we have to anticipate at European level because Member States cannot tackle them on their own.”

Advancing public healthcare safety in developing countries

MEP Davor Stier, EPP Group Coordinator in the Committee on Development, welcomes the young Hungarian's innovation as “a great example of how we can use innovation and technology for the advancement of public health and increasing prevention against contagious diseases. The Ebola outbreak is surely a reminder of the importance of prevention and risk reduction, both in developed as well as in developing countries.”

Could Tamás' hand-hygiene device also have an impact in preventing the Ebola virus from spreading? As he explains: “to contract Ebola, you really need physical contact with infected body fluids. The medical-grade alcohol sanitizer used with Hand-in-Scan can effectively kill the Ebola virus as well, so our device could be made part of the full body scrub in/out procedure one day. However, practically it has more use for controlling regular infections, such as flu, and contributes to public health through awareness raising.”

The Ebola outbreak is surely a reminder of the importance of prevention and risk reduction, both in developed as well as in developing countries Davor Stier

Tamás, in any case, plans to further develop his business: “We have serious intentions to develop a much smaller, cheaper version of the device that could be used even in remote health centres. Nevertheless, we must understand that currently they have a lot more urgent and pressing needs.”

We believe in people. #believeinpeople

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