Kaiser uses mock hospital for technology trial runs

A hospital mockup complete with patient rooms, ICU, operating room, bedside computers and fake patients helps Kaiser Permanente test technologies and practices that can save money and improve patient safety, MIT Technology Review reported today.

The 37,000-square-foot Garfield Innovation Center in San Leandro, Calif., is unique in the healthcare industry, the publication reports. Kaiser sends groups of doctors, nurses and others to the center to brainstorm and test ideas using new technology--or deceptively simple old technology, like a fluorescent sash that signals when nurses are busy preparing medications and should not be bothered.

The simple sash led to an 85 percent reduction in medication errors at Kaiser's 37 hospitals, according to the article.

Sean Chai, Kaiser's director of innovation and technology, says a team of social scientists looks for improvement ideas by observing practices at Kaiser's hospitals for ineffecient workflows. Other improvement ideas come from published research and salespeople for health technology companies, he tells the MIT publication.

The nonprofit healthcare system frequently gives technologies pitched by sales people a trial run at the Garfield center, Chai says, saving Kaiser the time and expense of purchasing ineffective technologies and systems.

In one case described in the article, testing at the mock hospital showed that mobile pharmacy carts with onboard computers tracking medications inside and limiting access through a biometric lock were too heavy for nurses to comfortably push around a hospital floor.

Another hospital that didn't have a Garfield-like facility spent millions of dollars to retrofit hundreds of the carts after purchasing them without conducting realistic tests, Chai says.

In an HIT Consultant article published this summer, Debbie Gregory, a registered nurse who co-founded the Nursing Institute for Health Design, argued that time and money are wasted when nurses are excluded from technology development and deployment, including for mobile health.

"Most often on the front lines of patient care, nurses are the people using the technologies, facilitating the access, involving the consumer, communicating with physicians, and therefore, it's imperative that they are directly involved in the creation of mHealth," she wrote.

One of her suggested solutions: Have vendors establish mock rooms in hospitals where nurses can try out new technologies and provide feedback that can improve usability.

For more information:
- read the MIT Technology Review article
- here's Gregory's article