Informed that her hospital room was equipped with computer screens that could display her vital signs, medications and other personal information, and even identify the health professionals walking in her door, Carmella Sacramento gave a classic Pittsburgh response.
"Get out," said Ms. Sacramento, 73, of Swissvale, who was hospitalized at UPMC Shadyside for a heart problem. "Isn't that something?"
The computer system presents other information, including reminders to patients to ask for help in getting out of bed if they are at risk for falls. And a spotlight focuses on the hand sanitizer dispenser when people enter or leave, reminding them of the need to wash their hands.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center calls the concept the "smart room" and believes it is the first of its kind. The idea has been tested since October in six patient rooms at UPMC Shadyside.
"While many technology vendors have developed 'smart' components, including advanced pumps that use patient information to regulate medication doses, ours is the first system designed to address the broader patient experience," said David Sharbaugh, leader of the project and senior director at UPMC's Center for Quality Improvement and Innovation.
"We believe this technology will enhance patient safety, allow clinicians to spend more time at the bedside and simplify the jobs of health care workers."
"Staff at UPMC have once again demonstrated leadership and innovation to improve the safety and quality of patient care," said Pat Rutherford, a vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
She noted that UPMC is among a group of centers in the nation participating in Transforming Care at the Bedside, an institute-sponsored effort to improve safety and patient care.
"Pilot testing of this smart room may lead to innovations that may be more broadly adopted by hospitals throughout the nation," she said.
Dr. Shuja Hassan, a UPMC geriatrician and smart room user, said that having the latest patient information on lab results and medications "helps to ensure the safest and most effective patient care possible. In a typical hospital setting, this information is not as easy to retrieve."
Having the information readily available also encourages physicians to review it with patients and their family members, he said.
Plans call for expanding the smart rooms to a 24-bed unit at UPMC Shadyside by the end of March. The results of the pilot project, including patient benefits and costs, will be evaluated before possible expansion to other UPMC hospitals.
The system is still being fine-tuned based in part on patient feedback, Mr. Sharbaugh said. Officials plan to modify a voice recognition system currently used to help medical personnel view clinical information. They also plan to move a screen displaying that information from behind the patient's bed to a side wall so that patients can more easily review the information with their doctors.
Access to that information is customized based on a health professional's need for the data. For example, a phlebotomist coming to draw blood would view only current lab orders and allergy information.
To protect patient confidentiality, medical professionals ask the patient's permission before accessing detailed health information. The system is programmed to retrieve the latest clinical data stored in UPMC's electronic medical record.
Another screen on the wall in front of the patient provides other information, including the names and titles of medical personnel entering the room.
Health care workers, who wear small ultrasound devices developed by Sonitor Technologies, are identified through an ultrasound detector in the room, Mr. Sharbaugh said.
Officials plan to add other features, including reminders to patients of when their next pain medication is due, or to health care workers about patients who need to be turned because they are at risk for bedsores.
Mr. Sharbaugh said the smart room idea arose from an incident at another UPMC facility. A patient who had a latex allergy was touched by a health care worker wearing a latex glove, even though a computer system indicated the patient had the allergy.
The lesson from that experience, he said, was the need to provide more information at the bedside, while protecting patient confidentiality and making access to the information "as easy as walking into the room."
Mr. Sharbaugh said he presented a concept paper to Elizabeth Concordia, president of UPMC's hospital and community services division, who approved the idea.
After unsuccessfully seeking a partner for the project, UPMC developed the smart room concept in about six months, he said. Others working on the project included design engineer Brian Adams; programmer Christine Henderson; and Lisa Lewis and contractor George Pople, who work to extract data from the electronic health record.
So far, some physicians have been enthusiastic, while others are "waiting to see the benefits," he said.
Surveys of patients have generally been positive.
Ms. Sacramento said the technology helps her feel more secure and gives her another opportunity to understand information about her health condition.
"I can look at that screen and take it in," she said.
Joe Fahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1722. First Published January 16, 2008 5:00 AM