An Open Letter to the Obama Health Team: Where is my patient? Do I have the right equipment? And other questions an EMR can't answer...

By Manuel Lowenhaupt
04:22 PM

Manuel LowenhauptIt is understood that healthcare in the US needs to change, and we wholeheartedly agree that accountability and transparency are essential for moving forward. We propose that our nation's responsibility to transform healthcare must involve much more than a massive investment in computerizing patients' medical records.

Certainly EMRs/EHRs hold the potential to ultimately increase efficiency and reduce costs, but the implementation road is notoriously long and expensive; the toll on hospital personnel is demanding; and the return on investment frustratingly low.

Patients, physicians, nurses - and so many other stakeholders in the care delivery process - are desperate for changes that bring smarter, safer healthcare right now.

Consider this unacceptable barrier to effective, patient-centered care. In our "wired, on-demand" world, nurses on a typical shift can spend up to 20 percent of their time "hunting and gathering" to:

  • Track down patients for emergency or time-sensitive interventions
  • Find essential equipment for a procedure, and
  • Chase specialists to assure the proper course of care.

If our nation truly aims to enable precise, disciplined and predictable patient care; if we are genuinely committed to seamless prevention and treatment milestones; if clinical effectiveness that leads to improved outcomes is a sincere goal, then we must support our frontline caregivers with an evidence-based management approach to creating a smarter, safer and patient-centered healthcare environment.

Across hospitals right now, we have an opportunity to reduce much waste and risk simply by being able to find my patient, my colleagues and medical devices the instant I need them. The technology that enables this visibility is a healthcare real-time location system (RTLS) - a simple, economical and profoundly powerful way to solve so many day-to-day problems that impede care delivery and skyrocket costs.

Right now, a modest RTLS investment - barely 1 percent of the cost of computerizing medical records - will return a hospital's investment in as few as eight months. And the payback comes in changes that improve healthcare daily.

  • Time spent "hunting and gathering" for equipment, patients or colleagues is focused on direct patient care
  • Dollars spent on excess rentals or repurchasing lost equipment is directed to other healthcare improvements
  • Even clinical spaces and systems that are part of an RTLS can be "smart" enough to alert staff to do the right thing at the right time. For example, to alert appropriate staff when a probable stroke patient is within "X" minutes of the need for aggressive therapy, or when the wrong patient is in the wrong location for a procedure.

An RTLS enables evidence-based management - the ability to see and respond to unbiased data regarding how my providers, patients and staff interact. This transparent view into the healthcare environment is a practical way to protect patients and support each other as we all work to move healthcare forward.

As a physician who's spent more than three decades working to improve healthcare, I certainly understand that there are many big problems to fix. We urge the entire Obama Health Team to be open to the vast array of innovative solutions that can bring immediate, hospital-wide value for minimal investment. Together, we can change healthcare for the better.

Manuel T. Lowenhaupt, MD
President, CEO and Chairman of the Board
Radianse, Inc.

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