A Case for Virtual Patient Observation

“Prevention is the best medicine” is a universally-accepted belief amongst healthcare experts. Any good physician would agree – proactive measures that can be taken to avoid disease, illness or injury is the most desirable course of treatment. Regardless of their efforts, however, virtually everyone at some point throughout the course of their life will find themselves in a hospital bed.

Relatively speaking, the hospital is a very safe place. With doctors, nurses and support staff around every corner, help is never too far off. Yet, there are patients where “just around the corner” may not be close enough. These individuals, due to any number of potential factors, require heightened levels of supervision. Physical ailments, mental health conditions or even legal issues can necessitate full-time observation.

Traditionally, the solution to patient observation is to assign this around-the-clock responsibility to a staff person, medical student or nurse. The responsibility of a “sitter” is to monitor any dramatic changes to the patient’s well-being related to incidents such as a fall, reaction to drugs or even flight-risks.

Like any task carried out by a human, there is potential for error. It is merely impossible to guarantee constant observation for duration a patient may require. Unmonitored moments during breaks or lapses in attention catalyzed by anything from paperwork to cell phone games are a distinct possibility.

This method of patient observation is far from scalable, which can lead to some difficult staffing decisions. The cost of employing a full-time sitter for every patient who could potentially benefit is hard to justify. In turn, many overqualified staff are becoming companions and/or individuals are left unattended.

The consequences of unreliable, inconsistent, or non-existent patient observation can be extremely costly. Consider this scenario: a patient who should not be mobile without assistance decides to attempt an independent trip to the bathroom. While they slowly work their way out of bed and shuffle their way across the room, they lose their balance and fall. As a result, they aggravate an injury, exacerbate their condition and ultimately extend their hospital stay. Worse yet, the injury has additional side effects and the family decides to sue the hospital.

The financial implications for the hospital in this scenario are enormous. Naturally, additional costs will be incurred for all parties. Beyond that, however, the hospital suffers a loss in the form of opportunity cost when the patient’s stay gets extended unnecessarily and a bed remains occupied unexpectedly. Perhaps worst of all are the legal ramifications associated with a lawsuit – not only the hard costs but the damage the negative PR does to the hospital’s reputation.

This situation could have been avoided with proper observation and the ability to alert someone immediately that assistance was needed prior to the fall even occurring. With the traditional method of patient observation not being a fail-safe option and certainly not scalable, healthcare entities are looking to modern technology to assist in this process. Tools that allow for observation and communication from patient to professional at any given time dramatically mitigate the risk.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Equipping your hospital by investing in a scalable technology that maximizes the capacity to observe patients efficiently has a significant ROI. Applying this innovative and proactive approach to a necessary function is not only a strategic business decision but a win-win-win: for the patient, for the staff and for the hospital.