By Joelle Moran
Nurses and physicians practicing at HealthONE’s Rose Medical Center have a new tool in their arsenal when caring for women in labor.
OB Airstrip, a state-of-the-art remote health care surveillance system, allows physicians practicing at Rose real-time access to fetal heart monitor strips, cervical dilations and other critical data on their mobile wireless devices such as an iPhone or Blackberry.
Rose started using the system in October 2009 and is the only hospital in Colorado that uses the technology. Alexis Blank, RN, BSN, assistant manager of labor and delivery, was the driving force behind bringing OB Airstrip to Rose.
Rather than having doctors come in to check OB patients, with the technology they can check a patient’s progress remotely and often initiate care more quickly by coordinating with nurses what they are seeing.
"It gives (doctors) an opportunity to pull it upon their phone, look at it and see in real time exactly what I see," Blank said. "They can assess a strip just as if they had walked on the unit, and they can make plans even from where they are."
The technology gives doctors the opportunity to monitor patients around the clock while in their offices tending to other patients or at home on call.
OB Airstrip interfaces with HealthONE’s Centricity Perinatal, a GE electronic health record system for mothers and infants for which Blank is system administrator. The fetal heart readings and cervical dilation readings are converted into a PDA-compatible wave form that can be transmitted to doctors along with other vital signs and nursing notes .
"It improves physicians’ quality of patient care in the office and their quality of life. They can turn it on and watch the patient almost as if they were standing by the bedside caring for the patient," Blank said.
Because labor and delivery nurses are often the eyes and ears describing to physicians a laboring woman’s progress, the technology is a helpful tool when nurses see something they are not comfortable
with and want the doctors to check it out.
"We no longer have to rely on descriptions to rationalize why we want to have a physician come in," Blank said. "It gives us a little bit more freedom to not be so knee-jerk quick in what we need to do."
Out of about 52 OB doctors that practice at Rose, Blank said 26 doctors use OB Airstrip consistently, but 29 are equipped to use it.
The bigger practices that use it, use it 100 percent of the time, she said, while a lot of single practicing doctors don’t typically use it.
Getting half of the doctors to use the technology wasn’t easy, Blank said, as many were leery of liability issues and that some physicians would opt to treat from afar. But Blank said that hasn’t been the case.
"(Doctors) use it as a tool to initiate advanced further care and follow-up by coming in," she said.
Initially, only two doctors wanted to use OB Airstrip. But after learning more from the CEO of Airstrip, Blank said the doctors and hospital were reassured that the technology was a win-win.
"(The CEO of Airstrip) had found that he sees more people saying that if you have access to OB Airstrip, why wouldn’t you use it; it may prevent further damage," she said. "Doctors now have flipped and say ‘Wow, this makes my life easier and takes care of my patient in labor with the nurse altering me.’"
The technology is also HIPPA complaint and secure. After the application is downloaded to a wireless device, the hospital has to sync a physician’s phone and grant approval before data can be accessed, Blank said.
Blank became a champion of OB Airstrip when she attended a HealthOne conference in 2008 and learned about the technology. She knew she wanted it for Rose. It was hard at first to get anyone to catch onto her vision of how it could change the quality of OB care, but eventually Blank got the backing of the VP of Women’s and Children’s Services to explore the possibility and feasibility of the technology.
Working with physicians and administrators, Blank said they decided if Rose was to be the best at delivering babies, it would be best to have real-time review of fetal heart monitor tracing. Also, the technology didn’t mean nurses has to do anything extra.
After looking at the financial impact and what it brings to the patient, Rose decided to go for it and got the backing of HealtHONE’s corporate parent HCA.
"(HCA) came on site and said, ‘We want you to do it and will give you support however we can.’ It was really a neat," Blank said. "The whole team came together and everyone saw how important it was."
Blank, who has worked at Rose for nearly 16 years—14 in labor and delivery—said she pushed so hard to get OB Airstrip because she wanted Rose to continue to be the best at delivering babies. But she said it was made possible by the managers and administrators who supported her efforts by allowing her to spend 50 percent of her time overseeing the Centricity Perinatal system along with OB Airstrip.
"They really provided me the time and financial backing to make it awesome for us. They have never said, ‘Oh, we’re never going to do that,’" she said. "Although cost is always a factor, they said this is important and a priority that we provide the best care to moms."
Blank, who earned her BSN in 1994 from the University of Northern Colorado, said she was drawn to labor and delivery because like all OB and ER nurses she’s an adrenaline junkie.
"I love working with the birthing process itself, bringing new life into the world and the relationship you build with the physicians. It’s a very close family with a lot on one on one with the physicians," she said.
"It is so rewarding and it can be so intense and to inspiring and challenging. No patient is ever the same. It’s constant change, and that’s what I love."