This is the first part of a web-series I am writing over the next several weeks to provide our Northern New Mexico community insights into some of the technology used throughout Taos Health Systems, and how that technology integrates into the care system that we have throughout our service area. Today’s introduction doesn’t necessarily get into specific technologies, but rather gives some context to the rest of the series.
Within the past 5 – 7 years, a major consideration of those of us in the healthcare industry has been with safety. When evaluating healthcare safety, the most common comparison drawn is between the safety history of the airline industry and the safety record of the healthcare industry. A Google search of “healthcare versus airline safety” results in over 8 million hits, and the topic has been studied extensively for a number of years. However, I personally don’t believe the comparison between the two industries is appropriate, primarily because there is more to both industries than just safety.
Safety is a primary concern for healthcare; not only because the treatments we provide also have the ability to seriously harm our patients, but also because the difference of even a few micrograms of medication can mean the difference between a therapeutic dose, an ineffective dose, or a lethal dose of the same medication. Regardless of whether a medication error causes harm to a patient or if it is simply ineffective due to a dosing error, these are all considered to be part of the over 100,000 medication errors that occur in U.S. healthcare facilities annually. Airlines on the other hand experience a level of safety expressed as “six-sigma”, or 3.4 defects per million. However, the analogy is a bit misleading as airlines do exceed the levels of six-sigma because fewer than 3.4 travelers die per 1 million individuals that fly in a given time. However, is the fact that you simply arrive alive after an airline flight “acceptable” for the price that you pay for the ticket?
Unlike the airline industry, those of us in healthcare aren’t only concerned with whether our patients “arrive alive”, but we are also concerned with the patient experience. For those of you that have flown lately, how many airlines have exhibited a genuine concern for your experience? Heck, you can’t even get a hot meal or an internet connection without paying extra for it – immediately. In the realm of healthcare, your experience does matter, not only for our internal evaluation of how we do at our jobs, but also for how we get paid and rated against others. When patient’s leave any hospital, a standardized survey is sent to evaluate how the hospital performed in a number of categories. These scores are aggregated, narrative details collected, and reports provided not only to the hospitals for internal improvement purposes, but the same details are reported to the public through websites such as Medicare.gov.
You are probably beginning to wonder how all of this ties in with healthcare information technology, my area of specialty. The safety aspects of what we do in healthcare find easy linkages to information technology advancements. For example, today we have systems that collect data on a patients such as height and weight and compare those factors against industry best-practices and safety considerations in real-time. For example, if you come to Holy Cross Hospital, your height / weight information, your physician’s orders for drugs, and your allergies are all collected and stored in the hospital information system. When the time comes for your nurse to give you a drug, your nurse will scan your patient armband, scan your drug, and the hospital’s systems will evaluate all of the pieces of data to assure you are receiving the proper dose at the proper time, and even in the proper route (injection, a pill, or even an IV). Any attempt to give the wrong drug, wrong dose, or even too soon will result in a real-time message to your caregiver. Of course, this kind of safety system helps make sure our patient’s stay safe, but it doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on our patient’s perceptions. It is this differentiation between patient perceptions and medical safety that we struggle with at hospitals across the country. Unfortunately, there is little that technology can do to overcome this chasm between providing competent, safe care and simultaneously doing so in a compassionate and educational manner.
Over the next several weeks, I will be introducing a number of different technologies that we use at Holy Cross Hospital and Taos Health Systems to our patients and community. As the Chief Information Officer for Taos Health Systems, I may be responsible for the technology implemented as part of our local health system, but I am also a team member working with our care staff to integrate safety processes with interpersonal and patient care processes. My goal with this online series is to illustrate how all of these pieces fit together and provide both the high-quality and personal care that our patient’s receive right here in Taos.
Chief Information Officer
Taos Health Systems