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Published October 29, 2013, 09:29 PM

Intelligent InSites sponsors conference to discuss ways technology can improve health care delivery

FARGO – There is no waiting room for patients at the Group Health Cooperative clinic in Puyallup, Wash., thanks to tracking software from Intelligent InSites, based here.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – There is no waiting room for patients at the Group Health Cooperative clinic in Puyallup, Wash., thanks to tracking software from Intelligent InSites, based here.

Instead, when patients arrive at the registration counter, they’re handed a “smart tag,” a microchip that receives radio signals, and directed to an available examination room.

Eliminating the need for a waiting room provides a range of benefits for patients, a Group Health clinic manager said.

“It’s privacy, it’s convenience, it’s patient safety,” said Janice Wharton, the clinic’s operations manager. Cold or flu viruses, for example, can spread in a waiting room filled with coughing or sneezing patients.

Group Health also uses the Intelligent InSites software to track portable medical equipment, saving time and helping to use the devices more efficiently.

Closer to home, the Family HealthCare Center in Fargo also is using the software to manage its inventory of medical equipment and to monitor patient flows.

Intelligent InSites, based in downtown Fargo, is hosting its annual Build conference this week, with users and health care information experts from around the country gathering to discuss technologies to improve health care delivery.

The three-day conference, which ends today, brought together 250 customers to compare notes and swap suggestions with developers for using and refining the software.

“For us it’s a great learning opportunity,” said Joanna Wyganowska, Intelligent InSites’ director of marketing.

The Family HealthCare Center has been piloting the software since early this year and soon will analyze results in ongoing efforts to decrease patient wait times at the clinic.

“It’s all about enhancing the patient experience,” said Patrick Gulbranson, Family HealthCare’s chief operating officer. The clinic, which serves many uninsured patients, handles more than 35,000 clinic visits a year.

Among other uses, the tags patients receive on registration can alert the clinic’s translation staff and summon an interpreter when a patient who does not speak English has a doctor’s appointment.

The Intelligent InSites software and associated hardware also allow the clinic to monitor its refrigerated medications, promptly alerting staff if the temperature fluctuates outside the target range.

“It can locate – it can tell you where assets are, where people are, patients, employees, family members,” Margaret Laub, Intelligent InSites’ chief executive officer, said of the software.

A patient at a San Francisco medical center recently was found dead in a little-used stairwell after wandering off unobserved, a tragedy that could have been prevented with a tracking tag, she said.

In another application, the software can allow a clinic or hospital to know with precision where an infected patient has been, helping to contain outbreaks of infectious disease, Laub said.

“There would be an auditing trail, if you will,” she said.

The most fundamental use, however, probably is allowing health providers to better understand how to better manage supplies, equipment and operations in an industry in which 30 percent of spending does nothing to improve patient health, according to some estimates.

“We can find out the relationships,” Laub said. For instance, the tracking system can help hospitals understand how much time nurses actually spend with patients, in their rooms or elsewhere.

Providers then can correlate the amount of time nurses spend with patients with patient satisfaction levels, a quality of care component Medicare uses in reimbursement rates.

One large Intelligent InSites client saves $95,000 a month by tracking equipment, Laub said. Large medical centers spend large sums renting equipment.

“You can save very, very big numbers,” she said. Better asset tracking also can minimize losses from theft.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to apply this,” Laub said.

Caryn Hewit, chief technology officer for Sanford Health in Fargo, said the health system is looking for a solution of the kind Intelligent InSites provides for its new clinic in Moorhead and new medical center in Fargo.

Tracking portable medical equipment and supplies might not sound like much but is an important part of running a more efficient operation, Hewit said.

“I think it will change the way that we really do business when we get this fully implemented,” she said, noting systems like Intelligent InSites still are relatively new and advancing.

Patient safety improvements include detecting when an elderly or frail patient has gotten out of bed, or is restless, allowing a nurse to respond quickly, Hewit said.

“A tool like this is going to give us a whole ’nother view into what we’ll be doing,” Hewit said.

So far, patients have accepted the tags, Whalen and Gulbranson say.

The nickname for the patient tracking system at the Group Health clinic in Puyallup is Waldo, after the “Where’s Waldo?” children’s book and game character, Whalen said.

“I definitely believe it’s making a difference,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522