In the scramble that is today’s healthcare industry, expect to see the unusual. At the HIMSS conference in New Orleans this month, Exhibit A was tech goodies on display at Intermountain Healthcare’s booth and its announcement of a strategic alliance with Deloitte.

At the HIMSS booth, Intermountain chief technology officer Fred Holston was demonstrating new technologies developed internally, and looking for technology partners to help mass produce them.

The first invention was fiendishly simple: A wristwatch that can sense when the wearer has washed his or her hands. If they’re washed, a light on the face of the watch glows green. If they aren’t washed, or if the caregiver has left the room, the watch face displays a red light.

“Imagine the impact we can have on the whole infection control conversation,” Holston told me. Now, instead of a scoreboard somewhere showing that hands are washed, there’s a beacon to remind the clinicians and their patients that a hand-washing regimen is being followed, or not.

It was just an idea that came “off the floor” of an Intermountain facility, Holston says. “It would not have made in the top list of Intermountain’s priorities, because it’s not what we tend to do. [But] I’m pretty sure we’ll be the first customer, and roll it out to all the caregivers to improve our handwashing compliance.”

Intermountain’s initiative is so totally contrary to traditional big-company thinking, where a department cranks out RFPs or fruitlessly searches for products already on the market. Today it’s different. Holston has 22,000 square feet spread across two buildings to crank out concepts and partner with tech companies such as Xi3.

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