NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 27, 2007

In order to improve patient safety and work flow between doctors and nurses, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has developed an automated system that recognizes who is in a patient's room and presents the patient's data accordingly, on a television monitor mounted next to the patient's bed, says the Wall Street Journal.

According to Dave Sharbaugh, project leader and senior director of UPMC's Center for Quality Improvement and Innovation:

  • About 60 patients have stayed in the first six rooms so far, although no life-or-death errors have been prevented.
  • However, one patient's latex allergy was noticed in the so-called smart room; during a previous hospital stay, information on her allergy was buried in her paper chart and missed by a staff member who touched her with latex gloves, causing an allergic reaction.
  • UPMC has spent around $80,000 of internal funds outfitting the rooms so far; the cost to run the system in each room is less $1.50 per day.

The plan is to roll out an entire floor of 24 smart rooms by March 2008 and begin studying whether they actually reduce errors and improve safety compared to a traditional hospital room, says Sharbaugh.  New features are also being added for patient's sake, such as adding the ability for patients' to watch informational videos or play Sudoku puzzles on the screen.

To alleviate patient privacy concerns, staff must ask patients whether they can move beyond a generic patient privacy screen, then press a button.  The screens are purposely positioned in the rooms so people walking in the hallway can't see them.  They are triggered by an ultrasound signal emitted by tags worn by hospital staff.

Source: Shirley S. Wang, "Getting the Right Patient Info to the Right People," Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2007.

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