A Hospital is a Shocking Thing

It shocks you into realizing that something isn’t right. Often this results in fear, uncertainty, anxiousness, and eventually exhaustion. That all hit me yesterday when I took my dad to the Emergency Room. I had been at work for two hours when he called and said, “Son, I need you. I need to go to the hospital.” He had blacked out three separate times at home, resulting in a very large bump on his head, what we learned was a bruised rib, and a handful of scratches and bruises to show for it.

The problem is not the handful of injuries, but that dad blacked out three times. It turned out that his blood pressure is dropping quite dangerously whenever he stands up. So they admitted him to the hospital to see what is going on.

Once we got past the shock of being in the hospital and what dad is going through I was shocked again at the utter lack of clear information transfer there is among the staffers who took care of him today. I was telling the nurses and doctors the same thing every time I met a new one. Only one doctor took the effort to read the information carefully while conversing with us. There is clearly a lacking tool here, something that allows easy notes and clear communication between staff members.

When dad got transferred up from the ER to the CTU (Clinical Transition Unit, the waiting area until a room is ready) the nurses didn’t know that he couldn’t stand up. That seems like it’s one of the most important pieces of information to be transferred to the new attendants for my dad’s health.

Don’t take this as a criticism of the hospital itself, they do a fantastic job, it’s a criticism of the system that is present in all hospitals I’ve ever been too.

On the drive home last night the idea struck me for a web site system which allowed family members to log on to a website and see the latest information about their family member. Obviously it would need to be a secure platform and would need to be seemlessly integrated into the workflow the nurses are already trained in, but if I could log in and see what dad’s blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen were, then that the doctor had been in to see him, and that right now he was marked as sleeping, it would be very comforting.

Unfortunately the converse is true, the site would also be a window to worry. If the patient was doing well, then there would be the continued reloading of the page to see updates, and frustration that the system wasn’t updating fast enough.

So do the benefits outweigh the costs? Is it something that would do more good than harm? I don’t know. I’m a web developer, not a medical professional. But if any of you decide to pursue this project, I could be convinced to take part and offer my help in building the system.

My dad is doing okay, I’m waiting on a call back from his nurse for an update. Last I knew we were waiting on two doctors to come by to figure out our next course of action, he’s already seen his Oncologist, Dr. Zehngebot, who was understandably perplexed by my dad’s condition. They have temporarily stopped his chemotherapy drug, Sutent, but after that I am not sure what the next step will be.

4 thoughts on “A Hospital is a Shocking Thing”

  1. It seems to me that even more important than getting information to the patient’s family (which, don’t get me wrong, is important) is solving the problem of information-entropy among hospital staffers. I can’t think of any other system that handles such critical information, and yet requires so much inefficient repetition.

  2. I think so many people have experienced what you have. What is scary is when the patient cannot speak for themselves or do not have family or friends watching out for them – what happens then? My mother had a similar experience last year in the hospital. I would help out as well if anyone wants to get this project started, either as developer or software tester.

  3. The issue isn’t that this system wouldn’t be brilliant and welcomed. The issue is getting _all_ systems integrated so you only have to enter any piece of information once.

    This is idea that nurses/docs carry around PDAs which automatically update databases and things.

    Unfortunately, in the real world, development time, costs, and the plain reluctant to change will most likely kill this.

    Imagine: A 65+ Year old doc staring at his new pocket PC like it’s a tricorder from Star Trek. Sure he knows how to be a great doctor, but he’s not “good with the gizmos.” This represents a huge problem in terms of adopting such revolutionary, albeit welcome, measures.

  4. Last night, while sitting in the CTU I witnessed something like that Karina. The woman next to us spoke no English so the poor doctor was trying to figure out what was going on and the poor woman couldn’t communicate between each other.

    The issue is obviously a huge one, I recognize that, and Adam you’re quite right that the in hospital information exchange is as important. My post got slightly derailed as I wrote it. But Evan makes the good points for some of the biggest issues.

    Florida Hospital is half-way there, the nurses are all equipped with Panasonic laptops which are known for their durability, and they have wireless. But it’s just a matter of getting that information dispersed and keeping it up to date between departments.

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