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High-Tech Hospitals: Tech advances aim to enhance quality of care, security

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Across industries, technology is making things smaller, smarter and safer.

At CoxHealth, a biometric screening device now rolling out is one of the latest examples.

The device, developed by Lexington, Massachusetts-based Imprivata, uses a near-infrared light to scan a patient’s vein pattern in their palm as a means of identification, said Jack Cole, CoxHealth’s administrative director of information technology.

A vein pattern uses 30,000 identifying touch points, and when combined with a date of birth, it creates a nearly completely unduplicated identification.

“I like to refer to it as the secret handshake between you and CoxHealth,” Cole said.

The benefits include reducing the risk of medical identification theft, misidentification based on the same name or birth date and the reduction of duplicate records, said Cole.

“When you talk about a patient coming into the emergency room that’s unconscious and they don’t have their ID, if they’re enrolled in the system previously, they can be scanned,” he said.

“We want to make sure that the clinician has the data they need to treat you properly and effectively.”

The 44-year veteran of CoxHealth’s IT department first saw the idea for the hand-scanning technology a couple of years ago while watching a Fox News segment. Another hospital system was using the device, and he thought the technology would benefit CoxHealth.

He began preparing an application for the hospital system’s annual Innovation Accelerator program that was held in late January of last year.

“I spent hours trying to consolidate the most important things that I thought I could get in that one-minute pitch,” Cole said.

The pitch wasn’t the winning idea selected that year, Cole said, but it did capture the attention of CoxHealth leadership. By the end of the year, he was asked to pitch the idea to Chief Financial Officer Jake McWay.

“The next day they told me to negotiate the contract and proceed,” Cole said, noting the software and devices were purchased from Imprivata for $600,000.

The funds come from a roughly $1 million annual innovation fund, said Scott Rogers, CoxHealth’s system director for performance integration and innovation.

“As a system, health care is pretty risk averse,” Rogers said. “With this funding we try to say, ‘OK, this doesn’t have a perfect payback, but how do we use it to spur change in innovation?’

“If we have great ideas, we’ll invest in them.”

New way of thinking
Charlie Rosenbury is president of Self Interactive, a Springfield-based company specializing in web and mobile development and virtual and augmented reality software.

He said innovative technology is emerging in health care.

“We’re still in the very early stages of what’s going to be a big revolution in the way technology is used in health care,” he said.

He said VR and AR are being successfully used in training – from physicians practicing a surgery to environmental services staff learning how to clean patient rooms. He recently developed VR training application software for the latter at CoxHealth.

He said most VR use in hospitals is currently in larger health systems and in medical education. But he predicts the technology will be standard in five to 10 years.

“For less than $1,500 you can have a really high-quality VR experience,” he said of the cost of the equipment. “This has really opened the door.”

Rosenbury said developing a specialized training application, like the training for CoxHealth, can cost around $50,000, but that ultimately this technology will save money for health systems.

“Currently this is all done with really expensive, custom-made hardware,” he said. “[VR] is cheaper because it’s reusable.”

Health systems also are touting the benefits of technology in surgery, where tech advancements allow for quicker recovery times and more efficient procedures.

“The direction that things are moving in medicine is less evasive,” said Dr. Rob Cavagnol, chief physician officer with Mercy Springfield Communities.

Mercy recently acquired a device called R2P to treat peripheral artery disease. With it, surgeons access arteries that need cleaned through a small incision in the wrist that simply requires a small bandage post-surgery, he said. Mercy officials say the health system is one of the first hospitals in the country to adopt such technology.

For good use
Cavagnol said new procedures and technology must have a positive effect on patient care.

“We don’t want to adopt something just because it’s shiny and new. It has to result in better patient outcomes,” he said. “There are some items out there that are attractive because they use a different type of technology, but it doesn’t show better patient outcomes.”

Another advancement in technology adopted in 2016 has permitted chronically ill patients to receive care at home through Mercy Virtual, he said.

“We hook them up with what’s called vEngagement and they send the patient an iPad and sensors,” he said. “Every day they check in with that patient, and they manage that patient day-to-day.”

Doctors are able to diagnose symptoms, prescribe medication and treatment and manage care, all virtually, Cavagnol said. In the Springfield area, 531 patients are enrolled in the program.

“It’s kept people out of the hospital and improved their care,” he said.

Along with the chronically ill, advances in virtual care technology also are helping school-aged children.

Rogers said CoxHealth developed telehealth centers that are now in 31 area schools. The centers can help diagnose symptoms and prescribe medications.

For example, an elementary school student kept missing school because his family couldn’t afford asthma medication. The virtual care was able to help.

“Nationally, the data says outcomes are better when kids are in school,” he said. “How do you keep them in school? Let’s give them access to health care.”

Cole said health care’s technology boom is good for patients and hospital systems.

His idea to bring biometric readers to CoxHealth began rolling out with employee enrollment Aug. 27 with the goal of all check-in desks having the devices by first-quarter 2019.

“One of the things I was most excited about with this idea is that we’re getting to use technology to help doctors and save lives,” he said.

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