New tools for the trade

By Eric Wicklund
12:05 PM

Devices like the PatientTouch help put – and keep – hospital nurses at the bedside, where they’re needed

BARTLESVILLE, OK — Susan Herron has a new tool at her disposal for checking medication administration at the patient’s bedside. Among its attributes, she says, “It bounces pretty good.”

As the nation’s nurses become more mobile – and as healthcare IT vendors design more tools for them to use – that “bounceability” factor is going to be important. More importantly, those tools are going to enable nurses to move away from the traditional nurses’ station and dry-erase board, ditch the clipboard and deliver better care at the patient’s bedside.

Herron, vice president of nursing at Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, Okla., is using the PatientTouch, a cellphone-sized device developed by San Diego-based PatientSafe Solutions to give the clinician instant access to electronic medical information. The 125 devices used at JPMC are currently programmed only to handle medication administration, which involves scanning the barcode on a patient’s ID bracelet and all medications to make sure the right patient gets the right medication, but future uses could include checking vital signs, handling patient intake and output, planning meals and documenting physician rounds.

“We call this connected patient care,” said James M. Sweeney, PatientSafe’s CEO. “This is the first smart device designed specifically for patient care.”

Sweeney, who has launched nine healthcare companies over the past 30 years, says PatientTouch was designed with the nurse in mind, with the caveat that the device not stand in the way of patient care.

“Studies have shown that nurses spend only about 19 percent of their time on direct patient care,” he said. “We want to at least double that, maybe move it up past 50 percent.”

Other studies, meanwhile, have indicated that the nurse  – that all-important and often-underappreciated link between the physician and the patient – may be feeling the strain. Their numbers are declining just as much as those of physicians, and a 2009 survey by indicates one out of every five nurses quits before the end of their first year, saying their overworked, stressed out, underpaid or underappreciated.

The PatientTouch joins a number of mobile health applications and devices specifically targeted for the nurse, including NurseWorks, a series of Android-based apps designed by Kathy Johnson, an Orlando, Fla.-based LPN with 20 years in the profession. NurseWorks apps provide nurses with important checklists, calculators, instructions, formulas and timers for use in various settings. The primary app, NurseWorks Assessment, focuses on 15 tasks, ranging from cardiac and diabetic care to vitals, pain and wounds, while another 10 apps offer help on handling emergencies, calculating IV drips, doing paperwork and checking fluids.

“Anything that can lessen the stress of working short-handed and keep more nurses in the field longer is a godsend,” said Johnson “Organization is the key to surviving as a nurse, and NurseWorks apps provides the organizational tools nurses need.”

With the idea that “relevant information is not where it needs to be,” Sweeney said the PatientTouch was designed to give nurses (and, eventually, other members of the care team) immediate access to relevant patient data, allowing them to administer and document care in real time. Rugged (hence the “bounceability”) and equipped with a 12-hour battery, it gives the caregiver access to clinical workflows, alerts and reminders and medical data, and can provide communications via video-conferencing, voice-over-IP and subject and free-text messaging.

Herron, with 40 years of experience in nursing, said the PatientTouch “really makes the process of medication administration that much easier for the nurse. Along with that, the more documentation you can do at the point of care, the batter you are and the safer you are.”

“They love the size of the device,” she added. “It’s easy for them to carry in their pockets, and they can pull it out and do what they need to do” quickly and efficiently.

Sweeney said he’d like to expand the uses of the PatientTouch, adding social networking tools, speech tools, perhaps linking it with the iPad or a patient portal. He sees this as the critical link between a hospital’s clinical data and the care team.

“We have spent, literally, billions of dollars on healthcare IT, but sadly, we’re not as connected clinically as we’d like to be,” he said.