Hospitals Use Technology to Monitor Patients

Julie Shenkman
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Remote monitoring may be the answer to a crucial health care problem — how to deliver high-quality care in facilities with limited medical staff and a high volume of patients. Health care providers are using data analytics and digital communication systems to improve the efficiency of patient flow, clinical integration and accident prevention. The end result is lower costs for hospitals and increased face time between patients and medical professionals when it's most valuable.

A growing shortage of health practitioners has motivated health providers to find innovative ways to close the gap in patient care. CHI Health, a regional hospital network based in Omaha, Nebraska, is spearheading a virtual integrated care team that uses techniques such as remote monitoring and virtual discharge procedures to connect with patients without the need for extra staff. One facility is experimenting with a fall-prevention system by Ocuvera, which relies on 3D depth-imaging software and an algorithm to alert nurses when patients who are fall risks are about to get up.

While many fall-prevention systems depend on bed sensors that lack early detection, Ocuvera's remote-monitoring technology analyzes subtle movements and body positions leading up to a fall. Based on collected data, the system reacts to common motion patterns and adjusts the risk level accordingly for higher accuracy and fewer false alarms. With remote monitoring, nurses receive patient alerts on mobile devices, allowing them to use their time more efficiently and making it unnecessary to staff a central monitoring station.

Even with human involvement, remote monitoring can still help hospitals better distribute resources and staff. Normally, many facilities use individual sitters to stay with high-risk patients all night, and nurses often run back and forth to check on patients who accidentally trigger sensors. Establishing a virtual sitter program enables monitors to alert in-house staff or remotely contact patients to remind them not to get up. A three-month pilot reduced falls by 22 percent while providing more patient privacy than traditional sitter procedures.

As nursing roles expand, hospitals need cost-effective solutions for coordinating care and managing daily patient-flow tasks that don't require one-on-one interaction. CHI Health is outsourcing some tasks to virtual nurses to strengthen consistency across care providers. For example, facilities use remote monitoring to walk patients through customized discharge instructions. Nurses can call the patient and use the in-room screen to explain or demonstrate important care steps, making the discharge process faster and more helpful to patients.

Highly experienced nurses are a beneficial resource for educating and assisting in-house medical staff. Virtual nurses act as facilitators, connecting doctors and patients via telehealth networks and supplying up-to-date records or charts on the spot when medical staff request information for patients. CHI Health also tasks remote nurses with monitoring data for quality control, drawing attention to issues such as high fall or readmission rates. Virtual support staff can significantly improve the patient experience during and after hospital stays by checking for risk factors and incompatibilities in care plans.

Health care is evolving to meet the demands of an increasingly insured population, and remote monitoring may boost patient advocacy without sacrificing quality. Instead of treating virtual technologies as a replacement for human contact, CHI Health and other providers envision health systems in which patients are more engaged and practitioners have more time and resources to offer accurate guidance.

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