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Attack healthcare inefficiencies with data

November 6th, 2013

by Lynn McVey

I'm waiting in the Fargo, N.D, airport waiting to fly back to New Jersey. I had both the honor and the pleasure to speak at the Intelligent Insites 2013 Build conference. Intelligent Insites is a very passionate team of data scientists, marketers, entrepreneurs and IT developers who want to use unbiased, chronic/constant data collections to deliver operational intelligence to fix this healthcare mess. Their hunger for harsh improvement was infectious.

For two days I listened to mavericks who attack problems with data, data and more data. One problem is that hospitals have 30 percent more devices, equipment and supplies than they use. We all know how that happens.

Because hospitals are run using multiple departments in silos, hoarders are rampant. As a prior radiology technologist, I was guilty of hoarding the extra wide tape in secret places.


Nurses, transporters, assistants and technologists are infamous for hiding stretchers and wheelchairs where no outsider can find them. Whenever I use an empty patient room's bathroom in my own hospital, I look behind the shower curtain. Inevitably, there is a heater, or a suction machine, or a folded wheelchair. Nobody can deny this happens in every hospital in every state.

The conference highlighted technology that tags equipment, devices and supplies with trackers so the hospital employee can locate whatever they need quickly. As one speaker said, the nurse needs "a" stretcher, not "their" stretcher.

A hospital customarily has 40 departments. When 40 departments hoard, it's easy to see why hospitals have slowly but steadily overstocked their facilities by 30 percent. This technology has the potential to be a real game changer for operational efficiency. My ears were wide open!

I was overjoyed to hear about managing with data. Usually, I feel like a salmon swimming upstream because I don't manage, I measure. Who knew all the other like-minded salmon lived in Fargo, N.D?

But my joy paled in comparison to how I felt listening to their founder, Doug Burgum speak about the future of tracking technology: "The patients can wear tracking badges. Family members can wear tracking badges. Doctors, nurses, technologists, transporters ... Hell, everyone in the hospital can wear tracking badges!"

Imagine the future efficiency of a physician. When Doctor Jones arrives to do rounds, he prints out the locations of all his patients plus he gets a map suggesting the most efficient route for him to travel. I marveled at the concept!

I also listened in rapture about tracking for safety and compliance. In surgery, tracking makes it impossible for a surgical instrument to go rogue. Hand-washing compliance is tracked without a human's observation because both the sink and staff have trackers on them. For an infection, track backwards and find out every location, employee and device during the infectious encounter. Brilliant!

Now imagine the patient arrives with a tracking strip on his/her prescription. When they swipe into the parking lot, their registration starts. As they approach the registration desk, the clerk welcomes them by name. Their room is at 72 degrees with extra pillows and bottles of root beer because their preferences were collected pre-admission. Visualizing what the future may look like with heavy dependence on technology and data, I started to feel hopeful about healthcare's future for the first time in several years.

Over the past two days, I listened to technology brainiacs offer those of us in healthcare some real solutions for efficiencies. I also believe the academic world is needed to help us analyze all this big and little data to make evidence-based enhancements.

It will "take a village" to fix healthcare. Let's get in the same studio and leave our egos at the door as Quincy Jones instructed many rock stars when they recorded "We Are The World." Four months later, $51.2 million created a large band aid for famine in Africa. Who would have thought that two days in Fargo would make a believer out of me again?

Lynn McVey serves as CEO and president of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an acute care, 230-bed hospital in New Jersey


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