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Wishard gives IT firms in health and life sciences a place to test products

April 9, 2011

So what do a spinal tap and information technology have in common?

Both can be pains in the backside.

It makes for a lame joke, but the two actually have a more practical connection at Wishard Health Services, where TechPoint is seeing some early successes from an initiative that helps IT firms pursue business opportunities in the health/life sciences sectors.

Health care veteran William Tierney, chief of medicine at Wishard, remembers listening to the pitch for the initiative, known as Advancing Life Science and Health Care Information Technology, or ALHIT.

“I was sitting there imagining if I were a businessman with a widget applicable to heath care,” recalls Tierney.

How tough would it be for that business to test potential uses at a hospital? Pretty tough, he concluded, especially if one tried to conduct a hospital-wide evaluation.

Tierney and other Wishard leaders have decided to conduct tests of promising technology offered by Indiana tech firms on a limited, department basis.

One of the tests under way, at the hospital’s central supply room, involves the use of radio frequency identification devices, known as RFID, supplied by Carmel-based BlueBean, a consulting and systems integration firm.

A 5-cent RFID tag is attached to a spinal tap kit or most any medical supply. Unlike bar codes, which are scanned by lasers and provide limited data, the RFID tag can relate larger amounts of data on its microchip. Manually scanning them isn’t even necessary, unlike optical bar code scanners, because their signals are picked up by antennas.

With RFID, the hospital can keep better track of that spinal tap kit when it leaves supply and know exactly where it was used, making sure the appropriate patient is billed, for example.

Tierney, who is also president and CEO of the Regenstrief Institute, one of the nation’s top health information records innovators, said the RFID technology also has potential implications for how hospital inventory is stocked.

Some retailers use RFID tags as part of a “smart shelf” system that records exactly when a product was sold and what type of product it was, such as the size of the shoe sold. A replacement pair can be ordered instantly and only when it’s needed.

“I’ve heard several times, ‘If a Wal-Mart can do it, you can do it, too,’” said Lee Ann Blue, chief nursing officer and executive vice president of patient-care services at Wishard.

Wishard is testing other technologies supplied by local technology firms, such as blood pressure cuffs equipped with Bluetooth devices that automatically transmit vital signs into the patient medical records system.

Previously, the data were hand-entered, which was time-consuming.

Wishard has also begun working with the vendor of a hands-free, voice-activated communications device—something like the communications badge affixed to uniforms on Star Trek. That way a nurse has his or her hands free to help a patient who is vomiting yet can simultaneously call for assistance from another nurse.

“It’s relatively easy for us to test it,” Tierney said of such technology. “It really is a win-win. It’s a win for Wishard. It’s a win for the business community, especially the innovators.”

Wishard is still early in the evaluation phase, and later next year should have good data from which to determine if certain IT products could be introduced broadly through the health system, Blue said. Among criteria the hospital is weighing are implications for patient safety, quality of care, whether patients perceive improvement in service, and financial aspects.

TechPoint CEO Jim Jay has likened the relationship of IT and health/life sciences to the state’s manufacturing and logistics sectors. Each are viable players in their own right, but “each is enhanced by the success of the other.”

Many IT firms in central Indiana have sprung from life sciences and health care firms.

Maaguzi, for example, originated inside Eli Lilly and Co. as a way to allow clinical trial participants to enter data via the Web rather than on paper forms.

TechPoint’s ALHIT initiative began with a list of about 70 Indiana IT firms that might get the opportunity to test their products in health care settings.•

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