We’ve all marveled at the image of the heroic surgeon whose calm voice and steady hands save the patient. But, in some ways, the most consistently heroic act health care providers can take comes in the moments before the surgery begins.

Proper hand washing is the easiest and most effective way to prevent hospital-acquired infections, which cause nearly 100,000 deaths each year and cost billions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But CDC data also shows that hand-washing by providers occurs only 55 percent of the time.

GE Healthcare and HCA’s Summerville Medical Center are now using the Industrial Internet, a network connecting doctors, patients, and machines, to improve that statistic. They’ve deployed GE’s AgileTrac RTLS (Real-Time Location System) Hand Hygiene solution, a software and data system that tracks clinicians’ hand washing.

Like a wet soap, this simple task can be surprisingly hard to grasp. But GE engineers designed AgileTrac to help track medical equipment, patients and staff. The system provides a real-time view of resources and how they are caring for patients, enabling doctors, nurses and managers to better predict and prevent problems.

It can also handle hand washing. Caregivers simply wear badges that count each room entry and exit and the use of soap or sanitizer dispensers. Everything is automated, no need to log in or interfere with existing hospital processes.

Tracking caregiver behavior is critical since approximately 20 to 40 percent of all hospital acquired infections are transmitted to patients by hospital employees, according to the American Journal of Infection Control. AgileTrac collects around 5,000 data points per day, compared with 700 data points per year from so-called “secret shopper” observation tactics. That data is used to track, and ultimately improve, the patient experience.

“The greatest value of this technology has proven to be the data – the fact you can look at individual workflows and departments and make changes accordingly. It’s a constant reminder to put the patient first,” said Summerville Medical Center CEO Louis Caputo.

The technology debuted in spring 2012 at the Summerville Medical Center’s intensive care unit, which saw an immediate improvement. The medical center has expanded the program to surgery units and the ER since then. “Our collaboration with Summerville has been invaluable as we look to tackle one of healthcare’s toughest challenges in a data driven way,” said Fran Dirksmeier, general manager for global asset management at GE Healthcare.