How health IT advancements are saving the day

By Peter Ziese, PhD, MD

With the healthcare landscape continuously changing, healthcare providers and administrators are looking to new technologies to address one of their biggest concerns (and challenges): patient safety. It’s a major issue, indeed, as a recent study shows that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors.

These medical mistakes range from surgical complications, to medication mix-ups, to not detecting vital signs early enough. While the challenges of patient safety remain, health IT solutions continue to evolve, providing new, improved ways for healthcare providers to address patient safety concerns.

Through these health technologies, providers can find longer-term, sustainable ways to tackle preventable deaths caused by patient safety issues. These solutions play an essential role in better addressing patient needs, but the initial step is evaluating how new technology can help eliminate preventable medical errors and improve the patient experience from hospitals to home care.

Through advancements in healthcare IT, health systems have the opportunity to provide better transparency, early detection, and bring hospital-quality care across the care continuum.

Improving Patient Outcomes

To delve into the growing concerns of patient safety, the National Patient Safety Foundation recently outlined five areas of focus. According to this list, the No.1 way to promote patient safety is transparency. The report focuses primarily on the transparency of communication between physicians and patients around issues like medical errors.

However, an important aspect of transparency—and one that is rarely addressed—is visibility into a patient’s medical history and information, which can impact his or her journey throughout the care system.

The problem begins when data and information are missing, making it nearly impossible for health professionals to receive an accurate view of a patient’s medical condition. And the lack of such necessary information and transparency may impair health professionals’ treatment decisions, creating potentially life-threatening situations for patients.

By ensuring that key patient information is available, health professionals have greater visibility into a patient’s medical history, which will help clinicians when they’re choosing a treatment path tailored to a patient’s specific condition and needs. But in order to improve patient safety through increased transparency, health professionals need to ensure that data transfers automatically.

While many may assume that data automatically transfers to where it needs to go, this is not always the case. And such a misunderstanding may result in a murky patient history picture—thus leading to medical errors that could have been prevented if the right information was available in the first place. That’s why providing clinicians with upfront, thorough information about a patient’s history is key.

Not only do clinicians need an accurate, complete patient history to provide their patients with the best care possible, it’s also critical that data isn’t lost when patients are handed off between clinicians. To thwart such problems, it’s imperative to examine the workflow to make sure the data fits and that the receiving field isn’t too long for the texturing.

Furthermore, to allow for seamless patient transitions, health systems need to send the correct information at the right time to the right person. Once health systems examine workflows and build an integrated solution, however, they have the opportunity to positively impact patient care.

The Role of Emerging Technologies

With efficient communication and workflow, early detection and intervention are crucial components to improving patient safety. According to a 2008 study published in Intensive Care Medicine, subtle signs of deterioration are present six to eight hours before an adverse event occurs, although they’re generally missed in random spot checks.

As technology continues to evolve, however, patient monitors can track patients’ vital signs on an ongoing basis, detecting any changes in real-time. And such innovations can allow clinicians to intervene and provide timelier treatment.

Moreover, clinicians face the challenge of receiving hundreds of alerts and not being able to prioritize actions—a situation that can create a stressful environment for both hospital staffers and patients. One solution? Breakthrough monitors that offer alarm management.

Thanks to early-warning score technology, which provides real-time vital signs monitoring (i.e., blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature), as well as a benchmark that can notify clinicians if the patient is showing signs of distress, clinicians can now triage alarms.

Instead of managing several separate alarms, clinicians can prioritize a single alarm, thus enabling them to get to patients quicker and streamline workflows. With the help of real-time patient data and early detection, clinicians can make informative decisions for their patients, take preventative actions, and thwart medical errors. Additionally, through these technologies, health professionals have access to these alerts on the go—facilitating a quicker response time regardless of where the clinician or patient are located.

Bringing Hospital-Quality Safety to Home Care

As the healthcare industry shifts its focus to improving the patient experience across the healthcare continuum, healthcare professionals will turn to programs that promote a seamless transition for patients leaving the hospital—keeping the patients’ health and safety the top priority.

Since reducing readmissions continues to be a focus for health systems, clinicians will need to leverage remote monitoring technologies to ensure that when patients are discharged, they can recover in the comfort of their own homes with a minimal risk of complications.

Remote-monitoring technologies, such as connected sensing, can help ensure that a patient’s vital signs are being consistently monitored even outside of the hospital, enabling clinicians to contact the patient remotely from the hospital to address any irregularities. Further, connected-sensing technology has the potential to improve patient recovery time, while also keeping patients safe at the point of care.

In conclusion, while medical errors and preventable deaths continue to be a major concern for healthcare systems, effectively utilizing healthcare IT can play a significant role in improving transparency. Through transparent physician and patient communications, as well as the promise of advanced healthcare technologies, we will continue to make significant strides to improve the delivery of patient care.

Peter Ziese, PhD, MD, is head of sales and marketing at Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions.