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Vanderbilt Medical Center: Tracking Patients, Costs Wirelessly

Each year physicians at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, treat 32,000 inpatient admissions in its hospitals and more than 800,000 adult and pediatric patients in its outpatient clinics. On such a scale, even small improvements in processing and tracking patients through the hospital system can yield huge gains in efficiency and financial performance.

With those factors in mind, VUMC’s information technology staff has created a patient tracking and operating room management system that follows each patient to each point of care, from admission until they are checked out of the hospital. As surgery patients enter the hospital doors, medical center employees known as “greeters” log them into the system using a wireless Compaq Corp. iPAQ Pocket PC, immediately notifying each station in the surgical care cycle that the patient has arrived. By accessing the surgical schedule, the greeter is also aware of the time that the patient’s surgery is scheduled, which operating room is to be used, and who the patient’s doctor is.

Once the patient is logged into the system, developed as part of a surgical center redesign project, the medical staff updates the patient’s status as they proceed through pre-op, surgery, the recovery room, a move into the patient room and continuing until the patient leaves the hospital.

The iPAQ supports the secure, wireless exchange of patient information via an Intranet Web browser between the care provider and Vanderbilt’s systems. The system avoids the need to store patient data on the iPAQ itself, which adheres to the requirements of the Health Care Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), federally mandated rules that take effect in 2003 governing the privacy of medical records and patient information.

Dr. Michael Higgins, an anesthesiologist and vice chairman for Adult Perioperative Services at Vanderbilt, said getting surgery patients into the tracking system quickly is the key to keeping the process moving efficiently. “We discovered that most of the delayed patients were actually at the medical center on time, but had simply gone to the wrong waiting area or otherwise couldn’t be located right away,” he said.

For more information, contact Michael Higgins at [email protected].

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