Innovative Technologies Promote Patient Safety

Keith J. Ruskin, MD

Innovative applications of information technology can improve patient safety in the operating room. This was a theme throughout the commercial exhibit area at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Medical device manufacturers and new software companies displayed products that provide information to clinicians through physiologic monitors, electronic medical record keepers, and handheld computers. Ease of use of these products continues to be an important feature. All of these products may improve patient safety by helping clinicians to make more informed decisions.

Displays throughout the exhibit area demonstrated educational software intended for use in a variety of settings. The latest version of GasMan, a program that teaches anesthetic uptake and distribution, was present, as were CD-ROM versions of the major anesthetic textbooks. Publishers also made products available for handheld computers this year. Lippincott displayed their new Clinical Anesthesia for the PDA, which was written by Paul Barash and offers tables, flowcharts, and brief clinical guides. PocketMedicine is a new company that specializes in specialty-specific information for handheld computers. Their ASA exhibit featured a pediatric anesthesia program that is available for both the Palm and PocketPC computers. This innovative program offers brief clinical guides, a drug calculator, and checklists.

Physiologic monitors that provide information in innovative ways were also on display. Philips Medical Systems has a physiologic monitor that is also designed for use as a “portal.” In addition to displaying ECG, blood pressure, and other waveforms, it can act as a gateway to a hospital information system. This allows the results of laboratory tests or radiologic studies to be displayed, for example. It also gives the clinician access to tutorials, guidelines, and other decision support information can be that obtained at the point of care.

The monitors on display were programmed with Online Electronic Help (OLEH), which contains clinical information prepared by members of the European Society of Anesthesia. Philips also offers an online drug calculator available for monitors that will not be marketed in the US.

Electronic medical record keepers enhance patient safety by organizing information and making it available to every member of the care team. This segment of the market was also well represented in Orlando. The Deio record keeper stores patient information electronically and allows it to be shared either electronically or on paper printouts. It also offers decision support tools that can be customized by the user. The Deio system can include rules, guidelines, and reminders that are designed to help health care providers in the intensive care unit. Drager Medical displayed anesthesia machines that use their new Saturn system to create and store an anesthesia record. These systems allow information about a patient scheduled for surgery to be rapidly distributed to everyone involved in that patient’s care. Information can also be used to improve ongoing quality assurance programs.

Innovative medical devices that allow patients to be monitored away from the operating room were featured in the exhibit area. Dolphin Medical displayed their handheld pulse oximeter. This device is capable of measuring oxygen saturation and giving a perfusion score, and can transmit this information to another palmtop or to a central monitoring station using BlueTooth technology. The device can be used to monitor patients in remote locations inside or outside the hospital.

The products described here represent a growing trend in anesthesia: These products may contribute to patient safety by providing the clinician with timely, accurate information.

Dr. Ruskin is an Associate Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the APSF.