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March 22, 2018

Sharp put this 'gizmo' on every patient's wrist—and significantly cut wait times

Daily Briefing

    Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center in Southern California has leveraged wrist-mounted tracking technology and better planning to cut patient transport dispatch wait times by about 15 minutes on average—and by an hour on Sundays, Paul Sisson reports for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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    The problem: Patients were stuck waiting, sometimes for an hour or more

    In 2013, Sharp Chula Vista realized that their patients were spending longer than necessary waiting to be transported from one location to another within the hospital, including when patients were ready to be discharged.

    To better understand the problem, Sharp Chula Vista began giving patients "bracelet-like tags" to track their real-time location. According to Sisson, the devices were "equipped with a radio frequency ID chip similar to those used to track the movement of goods in automated warehouses," enabling Sharp Chula Vista to map "each patient’s real-time location within the hospital down to the square foot."

    Sharp Chula Vista created a database to monitor patients' locations and how long they stayed there, according to Deanna White, the facility's acute care director. "We could see, looking at the data, that there were all of these little points where patients were waiting," White said.

    Most significantly, the medical center learned that, on average, 17 minutes elapsed between the time a nurse requested transport and the moment that someone was dispatched to the patient's bedside. On Sundays, the average shot up to 63 minutes.

    From the tracking data, Sharp Chula Vista learned orderlies often struggled to locate transport equipment, such as gurneys and wheelchairs, in a timely way. The hospital also discovered that delays in communicating with the cleaning crew meant rooms in the main hospital stayed open longer than necessary.

    How Sharp Chula Vista crafted a solution

    A fundamental cause of the problem, Sharp Chula Vista realized, was that the task of transporting patients wasn't explicitly delegated to anyone in particular. Nursing assistants and technicians had to fit it in around other responsibilities—which meant that, often, it wasn't anyone's top priority.

    That's how most hospitals handle the task, according to White, but Sharp Chula Vista decided that solving the problem would require making transporting patients a separate specialty. "We wanted to put a priority on this, so we centralized our transporters and, anytime a patient needs to go anywhere, they handle it from beginning to middle to end," White explained.

    Further, planners put tracking tags on gurneys, wheelchairs, and IV poles, and they tasked the transport team with parking, cleaning, and maintaining the stock. Sharp Chula Vista also adopted a smartphone-based system to transmit transport requests.

    The result of Sharp Chula Vista's effort, Sisson reports, "has been eye-popping." The average transport dispatch wait time fell from an average of 17.76 minutes in 2013 to 2.23 in 2017, according to Sharp data. The Sunday dispatch time has dropped from an average of 63 minutes to under three. And the average trip completion time has fallen from 19.8 minutes to 11.9 minutes.

    Now Sharp is in the process of expanding the system to its other hospital in the region. Further, the effort has attracted attention from hospitals all over—including a group that came to visit from the United Kingdom, Sisson reports (Sisson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/18).

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