Hospitals Test New Early-Warning Systems

The following story offers some tidbits on how new technologies, some EMR-based and some offering independent forms of patient monitoring, are popping up in hospitals.  I found the technologies profiled to be quite interesting and I think you will too.

According to a new piece in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. hospitals have begun to test wireless monitoring systems to track the condition of potentially unstable patients, such post-surgical patients or those on narcotic meds that can suppress breathing. The new technology is most popular on med/surg units where patients aren’t generally monitored 24/7 for changes that can prove fatal.

One approach hospitals are adapting is a wireless monitor which is placed under a mattress and tracks patients’ breathing and heart rate. The monitors, which were developed by an Israeli firm called EarlySense, also lets nurses know when patients get out of bed and when to turn them to avoid bed sores. According to the WSJ, EarlySense costs between $80,000 to $200,000 for a 30-bed unit; prices vary depending on how big the hospital is and how many features the product includes.

Academic research is already suggesting that such monitors can make a significant impact on patient care in hospitals. One study appearing in the American Journal of Medicine last year found that use of the wireless monitors was correlated with both shorter stays and a lower rate of code blue events as compared to units that didn’t use the monitors.

Another technology, software known as the Rothman Index, cross-references 26 variables in medical records and uses them to score a patient on a scale from 1 to 100, with lower scores suggesting that the patient needs to be watched more closely or receive immediate help. The software, which costs roughly $150,000 for a 300-bed hospital, places updated scores regularly on a graph. Some 70 hospitals already have the software in use.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center children’s hospital will soon join that number, rolling out a pediatric version of the Rothman Index software in June. UPMC, which has always invested heavily and inventively in new HIT approaches, chose to implement the new software after a research study appearing in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine found that it could effectively supplement staffs’ effort to track kids.

Yet another technology, used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, rates patients’ risk of developing serious problems in real time, by analyzing patterns found in lab results, vital signs and nurses’ assessments gathered from EMRs.

Regardless of how you slice it, it’s clear that hospitals are poised to make big leaps in how they monitor patients on the verge of destabilization. This looks like a very promising set of approaches.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.