Hospitals expand monitoring to catch subtle warnings

Healthcare providers are expanding their methods for 24-hour patient-monitoring, factoring in subtle but important signs of worsening conditions, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Patients recovering from surgery or hospitalized due to illness are particularly vulnerable to potentially lethal complications such as depressed breathing, which can lead to cardiac arrest. Hospitals typically monitor intensive care unit patients 24/7, but not patients on general surgical floors, despite the fact that patients can show "decompensation"--signs of post-surgical deterioration--up to eight hours before a cardiac arrest. Moreover, data from the Joint Commission found 29 percent of hospital narcotic-related adverse drug events between 2004 and 2011 were related to improper monitoring, according to the article.

Hospitals have adopted several strategies to address this disparity, according to the article, including wireless breathing and heart rate monitors that go under patient mattresses, and a system that rates patients' chances of serious deterioration in real time based on a combination of nurse assessments, vital signs and lab results.

Such methods already are showing promising results; a 2014 study found lower rates of "code blue" events, or those involving the need for immediate patient resuscitation or emergency attention, at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles after it implemented under-the-mattress monitors.

Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, has used similar monitoring technology since starting a pilot program five years ago, according to the article. Such tools have alerted staff to signs they might have otherwise missed, such as a low heart rate on a patient who turned out to need a pacemaker, Perry An, chief operating officer of the division of hospital medicine at Newton-Wellesley, told WSJ.

The market for patient monitoring technology is expected to grow to $5.1 billion by 2020.

To learn more:
- read the article