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Getting a Better View

November 1, 2006
by Gary York
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Early adopters are finding patient visibility systems can deliver on technology's promise.

Enterprise-wide patient visibility systems provide all hospital staff members — clinicians, managers, support staff members and others — with around-the-clock, real-time information about patients' locations, status of various tests results, updates on patient-safety issues and patient-care status.

For example, some enterprise patient-care visibility systems display this information on electronic "whiteboards," which contain a graphic representation of the hospital's floor plan, making it easy for nurses and other staff members to figure out what is going on with patients by glancing at the board. As a result, a nurse can take a glance at the whiteboard and discover that the patient in room 558 has a new order; has a new result; is at fall risk; and is scheduled for discharge at 1:30 p.m.

What makes such systems tick? With some enterprise patient-care visibility systems, information is taken from existing clinical systems and from location systems to create a synthesized, real time, single view in a clinical location repository.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is used to track patients' real-time location (tags are attached to patients' clothes or other items that travel with patients and the system monitors their movement throughout the hospital at any given time) and the location information is pushed to the clinical location repository. WiFi-based as well as propriety real time location systems are used to track patients' locations.

At the same time, data such as orders, results, bed status, admission, discharge, and transfer information from various hospital information systems are sent to the clinical location repository via HL7 messages. All of this information is then graphically displayed on the patient-care communication boards.

Enterprise-wide patient visibility systems differ from many other healthcare computer efforts in that the technology actually does the work. In other words, very little is required of users. For example, nurses have to glance at the board to check on the status of their patients — and they can then intuitively prioritize their work. Previously, nurses would have to go to multiple paper, electronic, and human sources to get this information. Now, nurses had only to learn how to read the boards, which in most cases takes minutes.

Environmental services staff members also benefit. Instead of having to call nurses to see what rooms need to be cleaned and to report when rooms are ready for new patients, the housekeeping staff can check the board and learn what rooms need attention. As such, there is neither wasted time nor miscommunication between environmental services and clinical staff members.

Enterprise patient-care visibility systems are also easy for quality improvement and other managers to master. Because such systems aggregate so much information, it is easy for managers to quickly get a handle on real time as well as long-term performance trends. For example, with these systems in place, hospital administrators can answer questions such as "What are wait times in the ED right now?" or can look at trends in scheduled discharge efficiency over any defined period of time.

The easy implementation, user acceptance and quick results make enterprise-wide patient visibility systems a great way to tap the power of technology and get healthcare organizations on the road to a more computerized future. Of course, these systems do not replace the need for other promising systems such as EMRs and CPOE. The systems could provide a much-needed jumpstart to overall healthcare information technology initiatives.

Gary York, Ph.D., is chairman and founder of Awarix, Birmingham, Ala.