Healthcare can be dangerous. Things can go wrong. This has probably never been truer than now as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and our institutions are stretched to their limits. Still, if you are sick, it is important to interact with the healthcare system. It is unsafe to have a serious condition and to let your healthcare providers know you are having problems.
But technology is helping make care safer, even during this pandemic, and this has happened in many ways. We have better data about what is happening, and numbers can guide policy. Technology has accelerated research, and telemedicine use has taken off.
From the patient perspective, the switch to telemedicine may be one of the most noticeable. In the outpatient setting, telemedicine has decreased risk of transmission of the virus to both patients and healthcare workers. Although some things that can’t be done well virtually, this has been a major win. Inside the hospital telemedicine has helped a lot too. Many hospitals are giving COVID patients tablets like iPads so they can interact with their providers virtually, again decreasing risk to all parties. This can also make it easier for patients to access their information.
Personal health records can also help with safety. These are an extract of your electronic medical record that lets you look at your information, like your laboratory tests, what screenings and vaccinations are due, and your medication list. In many states, COVID vaccinations have been scheduled through personal health records, and that alone is a good reason to sign up for one.
Staying on top of vitals
A host of monitoring technologies are becoming available that are also making care safer. These have been used for some time in intensive care units, but they are now increasingly available throughout the hospital and are also being used more in homes for people who need them.
They can monitor the vital signs, like pulse and respirations, but also assess things like how much someone is moving. Hill-Rom, the nation’s largest hospital bed manufacturer, makes the Centrella Smart Bed which can help with things like pressure ulcer and fall prevention, detect incontinence, and even measure the patient’s pulse and respirations. In one study, an evaluation including some of the technology in this bed in patients on medical and surgical units showed that patients spent about half as many days in intensive care later, and they were over 80 percent less likely to have a cardiac arrest.
The rise of smart medicine
One of the most exciting technologies which has the potential to make nearly all safety issues less frequent is artificial intelligence. This can be directed in many ways, but perhaps most powerfully they can bring together all the information about a patient to make better choices about what treatment may be best for them specifically, or to detect earlier when they are developing an infection. The use of this approach is already widespread in a few big systems, like HCA Healthcare, which uses real-time monitoring and predictive analytics to help clinicians “spot” sepsis infections. In one year, HCA estimates this reduced their sepsis mortality by 22.9 percent.
It can be hard for patients to know what technologies their health care systems are using, but increasingly this is featured on their websites. Nearly everyone in the United States now has access to telemedicine and a personal health record — and you should sign up if you have not. You should look to see which of these technologies your local institutions are adopting. Together, they promise to make a big difference in safety.