As medical devices become increasingly complicated and amass ever-larger quantities of data, hospitals continue to struggle with how to tap the vast stores of knowledge under their own roofs. Companies like Capsule, founded in 1997 and based in Andover, Mass, want to be the answer. Its solutions are designed to integrate disparate medical systems into a single platform, producing actionable data that helps drive clinical decision-making.
Kevin Phillips, the company’s vice president of marketing and product management, oversees the teams that bring new systems to market. He recently spoke with 24×7 about why it’s OK for hospitals to start small on analytics, the “build it and they will come” philosophy of device integration, and predictions for the hybrid future of biomed and information technology departments.
24×7: Walk us through exactly what Capsule does and the purpose of its platform.
Phillips: Capsule was formed 18 years ago based on the realization that medical devices contain rich data about the physiologic status of patients, current treatment protocol, and operation of the devices themselves. This data has the potential to provide clinical and operational benefits. Our vision of making medical devices interoperable with consuming systems such as clinical documentation systems, alarm management systems, and patient surveillance systems is what led us to create our SmartLinx Medical Device Information System, which enables us to achieve these goals.
24×7: What do you do in your role there?
Phillips: I lead and support the product management and marketing teams. As a group, our role is to listen to both the healthcare marketplace at large and our customers. We identify and articulate relevant market problems, and then take this critical input to define our product strategy and roadmap to address those issues. Ultimately, we work very closely with our research and development team throughout this process to ensure that together we bring to market effective and reliable solutions.
24×7: We hear a lot these days about big data. Where are most hospitals currently in their approach to managing this information?
Phillips: “Big data” is a nebulous term that has many meanings. I interpret it as the ability for hospitals to capture data from all areas of operation, normalize and manage it in a central repository, and analyze this data over time to help improve patient safety and clinical operations.
Currently, many hospitals are using big data to tackle the problem of readmissions, by identifying and factoring in multiple indicators that identify those at risk for readmission, so that care plans can be initiated to reduce that risk.
We believe that hospitals don’t need to start with “big data” types of analytics. Every system in the hospital provides a myriad of data. When analyzed, it can reveal workflow enhancements, achieve cost savings, and improve outcomes.
For example, our SmartLinx IQ analytics engine will take the data from medical devices (90% of which is never put to use) and apply it to an array of uses, from identifying workflow improvements to aiding in the reduction of equipment purchases. The power of medical device data is magnified when coupled with data from other systems like admission-discharge-transfer (ADT). It can reveal how these things relate, and improve workflow based on this knowledge.
24×7: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges hospitals are facing?
Phillips: At a macro level, the biggest obstacle faced by hospitals is still getting access to normalized data that can be analyzed. While meaningful use initiatives have spurred interoperability, there are still multiple systems that are not continuously connected. And without data, it is difficult to perform any analytics on it.
At a micro level, in the world of medical devices, we see the same challenges. Without a solution like SmartLinx, devices are still largely unconnected. Patients and treatment protocols cannot be continuously monitored, while medical device operations can only be monitored manually and reacted to when a problem is reported.
24×7: What do you see as the potential outcomes if hospitals were able to better leverage the data at their organizations?
Phillips: By leveraging even a small portion of the data generated in a hospital, organizations can improve performance in a number of ways. Simply understanding equipment utilization and having an accurate census can allow equipment to be better managed, reducing unnecessary purchases.
Alarm fatigue, an issue that has attracted a lot of attention, is another area. Alarms have traditionally been managed by addressing each individual alarm as it occurs. By centrally managing alarms and providing the ability to see trends, you can identify ways to reduce the number of alarms, and with it, the risk of an alarm being missed.
Consider, too, how having the ability to see how patient acuity, admissions, discharges, and transfers impact workflow on a unit provides an opportunity to balance the workload across units, thereby improving nurse satisfaction and allowing for increased patient interaction.
If all of these things are combined, they can improve patient satisfaction and, more important, outcomes. Managing data can ensure that the right equipment is available in the right locations, that workloads are being effectively managed, and that there is the kind of visibility to ensure that workflows are running as efficiently as possible.
24×7: What steps does healthcare need to take, both as an industry and at individual facilities, to get there?
Phillips: There are two basic strategies. The first it to pursue a “build it and they will come” strategy, whereby the goal is to connect all data elements, while at the same time identifying and articulating the specific opportunities this connectivity engenders. This is very similar to the “Internet of Things” initiative.
The second is to start with the end objective or question in mind, and work backwards to connect the relevant systems.
24×7: Where do healthcare technology management departments fit into this picture? How can they support these efforts at their facilities?
Phillips: Healthcare technology management departments are critical to the deployment of any IT system. While the objective to install a system is typically led by a clinical or business initiative, the IT organization typically leads the procurement, implementation, and support processes.
However, what we see as an emerging trend is that unlike IT organizations of old, the IT department is becoming a mix of IT and biomed. This transformation is aligned with our product strategy as well.
Early on, we worked almost exclusively with the biomed team as we were installing terminal servers in patient rooms. These were devices that would physically connect to the medical device and aggregate data within a centralized server.
As deployments became more complex and we had to manage user authentication, patient identification, and device association at the beside, we deployed a clinical mobile computer we termed the Capsule Neuron. To manage the integration to the additional systems (ADT and active directory) to power our system, IT became our primary audience.
Fast forwarding to today, we recently consolidated the technology of a vital signs monitor, charting application, early warning scoring system, and connectivity into a single device, our SmartLinx Vitals Plus product. Such a hybrid device requires a hybrid IT/biomed person to support and work with it.
I believe that in the future, hospitals will need to integrate clinical informatics, clinical engineers, and data analysts into a single department to fill the clinical and operational roles in hospitals.
24×7: Do you have any recommendations for best practices biomeds should be following?
Phillips: Biomeds should be looking for opportunities to leverage the data that they know is being underutilized. Their challenge will be taking a larger view of organizational needs when doing so. There are a number of opportunities to improve workflows and visibility within their department. However, the maximum value to the organization will be achieved when clinical engineers use their detailed knowledge of the data they are most familiar with in a way that aids caregivers in improving clinical workflows and patient outcomes.
24×7: How did you get to where you are?
Phillips: My role at Capsule (now a Qualcomm Life company) is fortuitous in many ways. While I started out through training and working in a biochemistry lab, I knew I wanted to get closer to technology and the building of new products. After moving to a few medical device startups and making my way through business school, I had the opportunity to join the business development team at Capsule in 2009. From my interactions with our closest partners, I quickly came to understand the problems hospitals and our medical device and information system partners were facing, which gave me a great opportunity to lead the product team starting in 2013.
Jenny Lower is chief editor of 24×7. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.