Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Learning from a Canadian Innovation Institute

Although the challenges of health care today keep us very focused on traditional operational solutions, we have said many times it is important to take some time to look into the future and attempt to identify those innovative activities that will help us address these challenges long-term and develop the best health care for our patients and their families long into the future.

In addition to our future planning processes, which we have discussed in numerous blog posts, we are attempting to put together a virtual innovation institute within CHRISTUS Health where we will be constantly exploring potential new technologies, treatment processes, preventive health initiatives and wellness programs that will permit more and more health care to be delivered in more non-acute settings and in less invasive manners.

To add additional knowledge to this developmental activity, we visited an innovation institute in Canada on our recent Futures Task Force II learning journey. (See my previous blog posts for more information on this visit to Canada and some of our other learnings.)

Led by a physician with a strong team of clinical researchers, this institute was opened approximately a decade ago. Its primary goal is to look at technologies that are being developed which will improve the quality and safety of the health care delivery process.

To accomplish this, one floor of a medical office building has been dedicated to create large spaces in which every conceivable health care delivery process can be mocked up for careful study. The spaces have been structured in such a way that they can be quickly put together and quickly torn down with ample space in floors and ceilings for wiring that is necessary to provide as many cameras and monitoring tools as is necessary to determine what is working and not working for health care providers as they test these technologies in as close to real-life situations as possible.

Examples of the technologies under study at this time include a new infusion pump which has multiple safety factors imbedded in it as well as one screen in the room that can be utilized not only for television, but for health education, as well as a screen on which the health care providers pull up all the clinical data on the patient they are caring for.

By carefully studying these technologies through observation windows and utilizing multiple cameras as well as listening and data collection devices, these researchers can determine what is and what is not working for the health care providers. In addition, they can stop the process and go into the room to talk with the health care provider to determine what would make the process easier and what would prevent the error that hey had just made from reoccurring.

After doing these studies with a statistically significant number of individuals, this information is then fed back to the inventors and manufacturers of the proposed devices so that they can be enhanced to prevent as many of the errors as possible that were seen in the testing process from reoccurring when they are actually produced and mass marketed.

Because the researchers also agree with us that much of health care will be rendered on an outpatient basis, they are also studying innovative ways in which various health care metrics can be identified and visualized on your cell phone and then transmitted to your caregivers either in your family or to your professional medical care providers.

For instance, they have developed a blood pressure cuff that can be connected to the phone so that you can see your daily blood pressure and then transmit it to anyone else who needs this information. They have also developed a blood glucose monitoring device which is attached to the phone, can read your blood sugar level and also transmit it to the appropriate people. This eliminates a series of other devices and also connects it to a now almost universal mode of communication, a cell phone, which is often owned by even the poorest people in many countries.

Clearly, this experience has demonstrated to us that as challenging as it may be, we must continue to reserve a portion of our time in looking innovatively at what the future might be bringing us which will improve our health care delivery processes, our non-invasive technology, and ultimately our medical outcomes for the patients and families that we serve each and every day in CHRISTUS Health.

Our learning journey and the observations outlined above have only re-emphasized for us that there are always better ways to do what we are presently doing to raise our safety and quality standards, and it is only by asking inquisitive questions and tediously studying the pros and cons that we can determine what is best for the future and what we must leave behind from the past.

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