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Bridging the Digital-Physical Divide for Safety and Quality

This is part 3 of our eight-part series on the future of digital health. Check out our full white paper here if you want to see our complete vision for healthcare in the 2020s.

Patient and workforce safety are both critical challenges in today’s hospitals. “Safety,” as we use it here, refers to the reduction or elimination of preventable errors throughout healthcare workflows.

Since the groundbreaking analysis “To Err is Human” in 2000, patient safety and the need for quality improvement initiatives have driven a dramatically-safer environment for hospitalized patients. However, much work still needs to be done, with 250,000 deaths attributable to preventable failures of patient safety in 2016. The current transformation in patient safety, which blends smarter physical devices (the “Internet of Things,” or IoT) with artificial intelligence (AI), offers us a model for standardizing care and building the platforms needed to keep patients safe.

With regard to workforce safety, the clear failures of many institutions to protect their providers during the COVID-19 crisis, while driven by many factors, highlights that an emphasis on worker safety and rights has yet to come to healthcare, and we believe that the stark example provided by this last year will catalyze additional investment in this space.

We believe that the next wave of innovation in both of these areas will emerge through a bridging of the digital and physical worlds, leveraging IoT, automation, AI and augmented reality (AR) to better protect our patients and workforce members. And yes, I know I exceeded my buzzword limit in that sentence, so I’ll just have to beg your indulgence.

We envision technologies that trigger automated warnings as individuals enter areas where contact precautions might be necessary or when patients are agitated — situations of potential increased risk for providers. Similar triggers should go off when healthcare personnel forget to wash their hands between patient visits, or potential falls might occur. The bottom line is that many of the processes designed to protect patients and providers are currently procedural or checklist-based, and we believe that augmenting these practices with technology will vastly improve outcomes.

AR will soon play a role in these platforms, as they are well suited to providing greater leverage, safety and accountability in our human capital. As we have seen with AR in warehouses, it is perfectly feasible to automatically generate in-view alerts of drug allergies, step-by-step reminders of procedural protocols, or myriad other just-in-time critical pieces of information that will help prevent errors and keep workforce members safe. The challenge, frankly, will be to do all of this without overloading providers with too much irrelevant information, the current bane of the front-line healthcare worker.

As a result, we are looking for platforms that are able to provide more meaningful, just-in-time integrated alerts, as well as, and equally importantly, intelligently filter through and present only the most important information as it is needed. In addition, we are looking for the hardware and physical devices that remove the need for these types of alerts completely, intelligently “closing the loop” to protect patients and providers. The last thing healthcare needs is a new set of inaccurate, de-contextualized alerts, adding to the current state of alert fatigue, or new, ever-more-complex devices that require excessive training just to operate them safely. If you’ve got a technology that helps hospitals keep patients, workforce members and providers safe, without increasing cognitive burdens on providers, we’d like to talk.

If you found this interesting, check out the full white paper, Eight Drivers of Digital Health in the 2020s, a comprehensive look at how LionBird views the future of digital health.



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Robert Lord

Robert Lord

VC @LionBirdVC, Medical Student @HopkinsMedicine, Co-Founder and Chairman @Protenus