Here's to Your Health -- And Our Soap

IDEA SPOTTING: K-C Recording Reminds People to Wash Hands

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if you're in a public restroom and you hear a disembodied voice reminding you to wash your hands, it's not divine intervention. It's Kimberly-Clark.

The paper-towel and soap marketer's professional unit has found a novel way to get people to use its products-a gentle reminder from its Hand Hygiene Voice Module, a $25 unit that every two minutes repeats the message: "Hand-washing reduces the spread of germs. Thank you for washing your hands."

That would seem to go without saying, but apparently not. The company cites data from the Centers for Disease Control that only 40% of health-care workers wash their hands as well or as often as they should.

Of the food-borne diseases that cause about 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, 5,000 deaths and $120 billion in losses each year, about half are caused by foodservice workers who fail to wash their hands properly, said Richard Thorne, director of K-C's washroom business.

The voice module, which can issue its cheery reminder in a male or female voice in English or Spanish, won't end all that. But it is a start. The company tested the module in some of its own bathrooms and found hand-washing went up 12%, as measured by consumption of paper towels and soap.

Surely that's good news for K-C, which sells those two products to about 30% of the public bathrooms in the U.S. But the idea really is about improving public health, with the initial marketing focus on health-care institutions.

In a nod to the public-health concern, the company isn't limiting marketing of the modules to bathrooms it supplies. A number of institutions have expressed interest, Mr. Thorne said, but K-C doesn't have any installations yet. Kapnek Communications, Philadelphia, is handling public-relations efforts around the new system.

Doctors actually are the main culprits responsible for that deplorable CDC figure, but Mr. Thorne hastens to point out that's probably not because they are failing to wash their hands in the bathroom, but because they're not washing every other time they should, such as between patient visits.
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