In order to improve patient care and to further that oh-so-popular buzzword “engagement,” the answer at Texas Health Alliance was simple: While patients are recovering, put as much information and access as possible into their own hands.
Which means, sure, if he or she wants to catch up on Scandal, just put Netflix at their fingertips from the hospital bed. But it also means that new mothers whose body temperature soars or plunges due to hormones could adjust the thermostat as need be. If someone has a question about the medication they’re prescribed, they can use the internal system to get more information.
But the idea’s the easy part. What about implementation? The answer may be sitting on your desk.
“It’s a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet,” says Kathi Cox, the consultant at Texas Health Alliance who headed the project. “Prior to the system, you could access your records once you left the facility. What you can do now is look at your hospital record in the hospital in real time.”
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance is a 50-bed, acute care hospital that serves residents in North Fort Worth and the Mid-Cities.
The hospital, located on the northern edge of Tarrant County, currently has tablets installed in all 50 rooms. Each connects to a 42-inch bedside television, which can be used to stream movies or watch instructional videos that teach the patient how to dress a wound or breastfeed, whatever the case may be. “They love being able to see their education right there and not watch it on a wheel-in TV set. They can watch it when they want,” says Winjie Tang Miao, president of Texas Health Alliance.
Cox’s team began researching ways to improve patient engagement about two years ago. It’s all documented in a recent study published in the Journal of Healthcare Information Management. The end goal was to employ a more patient-centered mantra before, during, and while providing care.
The best way to do that, Miao wrote in the study, is to offer an environment that the patient can make their own.
“We knew that the care we needed to deliver needed to be personalized, we knew it needed to be interactive because we knew getting patients engaged in their care would get them healthier faster,” Miao said in an interview.
That idea is nothing new. Hospitals and educators near and far have tried various tactics to create that sort of environment. The Walnut Hill Medical Center in North Dallas built its entire building and care strategy from that perspective. In 2012, researchers at MIT sponsored a contest to come up with ways to get patients to be proactive in healthy living after they’re discharged from a hospital with a manageable disease like type two diabetes. They found the best way to do that was give them more control of their care on their own terms.
The tablet is Texas Health Alliance’s way of achieving this goal. And, according to Miao and Cox, it’s working. The hospital is collecting data to put hard numbers behind its claim, the two say, by surveying patients and physicians who use the system.
Nurses love it because it vanquishes much of the menial work. They’re not taking food orders or adjusting a room’s temperature anymore. Miao says it better: “I joke all the time that nurses didn’t go to nursing school to fill out paperwork and turn down thermostats.”
Texas Health works with Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sonifi to help tweak the project based on feedback. The installation of one device in a single room costs $1,000, including the mechanical arm and the software that goes with it. When the patient is dismissed, their educational software and medical record are each accessible from home. And because of their time with the tablet, they’re familiar with how to access all this and use it properly.
For the hospital, the data received from the patients could trigger change in operations. For instance, a mass amount of requests to turn the temperature down may be a sign that an area in the hospital is too warm. “This solution, which allows the patient to do various things by touching the tablet in front of them, has huge implications,” Cox said.