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Monday, September 27, 2010

GE "Smart Patient Rooms" System to Take Aim at Hospital Errors

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 In its century in the healthcare business, General Electric Co has tackled big tasks from inventing the X-ray machine to helping drive the spread of electronic medical records.
Now the largest U.S. conglomerate is turning its attention to a seemingly simple problem that costs the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion to $15 billion per year -- making sure that physicians and nurses wash their hands.
That's one of the first things the company's forthcoming "Smart Patient Rooms" system is intended to track.
"(Caregivers) get into such a routine that it's, 'This is what I do,' and they don't realize that they haven't" washed their hands properly before treating patients, said Mike Harsh, chief technology officer at GE Healthcare. "We're able to analyze that in real time and say, 'Hey, remember to do this.'"
GE, which generates about $16 billion of annual revenue from its healthcare business, is getting ready to test the system at Bassett Medical Center, a 180-bed hospital in Cooperstown, New York, not far from GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna.
Hand-washing is just one of the practices that the system is designed to track. Using a series of cameras that analyze movement, it can also warn hospital staff if a patient is trying to get out of bed.
The system relies on technology GE developed for security services, initially to provide automated scanning of large crowds in public places for signs of unusual activity.
It can also track how frequently doctors and nurses check in on patients in their hospital beds.
The system is designed to make it easier for hospitals to track "near-miss" incidents -- skipped steps that could have left a patient sicker or injured.
"This technology could be a method of tracking those items that are near misses that otherwise might not be tracked or recognized," said Dr. James Kruse, chief of critical care at Bassett.
Bassett will be testing an early version of the system. GE officials said they have not yet estimated potential revenue for the business, which joins a healthcare portfolio ranging from CT-Scan machines to consulting with hospitals on how to run their operations more efficiently.
International Business Machines Corp offers a hospital system called "SmartRooms" that uses ultrasound tags and wall-mounted monitors to communicate patient information and work flow quickly to nurses and other caregivers.
GE's goal is for the smart room system over time to track a wider range of doctor and patient behaviors, which can be added on to the existing infrastructure over time.
"We have to solve a clinically relevant problem first and take it from there," Harsh said.

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