In his June 3 blog post at CIO.com, Tom Kaneshige asks: “Can the iPad cure what ails us?” He goes on to describe new applications for iPads in Texas hospitals, including the remote monitoring of patients’ EKGs by nurses roaming the hospital.
“The big revolution in tablet computing for hospitalists, which has been right around the corner for the past decade, hasn’t quite arrived yet,” says Russ Cucina, MD, MS, hospitalist and medical director of information technology at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. “But I think we’re getting close, even though I’m not convinced that the iPad will be the vehicle.”
One of the hallmarks of such a technological revolution will be to free up hospitalists and other workers from computer work stations, where they are increasingly removed from face-to-face interactions. “Something gets lost in the name of efficiency,” Dr. Cucina says.
Hurdles to the tablet revolution include:
- Short battery life and the lack of rechargeable batteries. “Doctors need to be on the floor longer than eight hours,” Dr. Cucina says.
- Interacting with a tablet using thumbs and a touchscreen is fundamentally different from using a laptop, and applications should recognize the differences.
- Wireless access to secure electronic health records (EHR) throughout the hospital. “This is more of a cost issue than a technical problem,” Dr. Cucina explains. “It’s also incumbent upon us as physicians to develop good security practices with our tablets.”
- The skills to use the screen in the presence of others—in other words, What is the proper etiquette in front of care team members, patients, their families, etc.?
Hospitalists Look to Partner with New Quality Institute
Don’t be surprised if HM eventually gets a piece of the new Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
The center, funded through a $10 million gift from Johns Hopkins Medicine board of trustees chairman C. Michael Armstrong, will become the umbrella arm in charge of reducing preventable harm and improving healthcare quality.
Eric Howell, MD, SFHM, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and director of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s HM division, already sees that as hospitalist turf and could easily see HM partnering with the new institute. Dr. Howell, who already has reached out to the institute’s head, checklist guru Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, wrote in an email to The Hospitalist: “Hospitalists at Hopkins have a long tradition of exactly this type of work.”
Dr. Howell points to recent HM-driven research and initiatives to reduce “red alerts,” the term for ambulance diversions in the ICU, and streamlining the admission process to allow outpatient doctors to bypass the ED for patients for whom hospitalist admission is needed. At Howard County General Hospital, a suburb about 15 miles southwest of Baltimore, the HM group is running all rapid response team (RRT) events.
“In short,” Dr. Howell writes, “the Armstrong Institute will find hospitalists to be a willing partner.”
Hospitalists Must Prepare for Primary-Care Shortfalls
The Milwaukee-based American Society for Quality (ASQ) recently surveyed healthcare quality professionals about anticipated shortages of primary-care physicians (PCPs) and other medical staff, particularly as more Americans gain health insurance under the Accountable Care Act and Medicare). The trend is real, says Joseph Fortuna, MD, chair of ASQ’s Health Care Division, and hospitalists will face challenges in discharging patients who lack a defined PCP.
Survey respondents highlighted some strategies for dealing with the primary-care shortage, including the EHR for improving efficiency, teamwork, and checklists. Dr. Fortuna suggests HM groups:
- Work with PCPs and federally qualified health centers to enhance integrated relationships and improve handoffs. Local public health departments will be important collaborators.
- Define quality not just clinically, but also in terms of financial, operational, and cultural domains, using techniques of change management, root cause analysis, and other quality tools.
- Be involved in patient-centered medical homes as “catalysts, coordinators, and facilitators.”