When New York Police Department cracked on crime in the 1990s, it deployed CompStat, a process that crunched police data and spotted bad blocks and street corners. Cops then swooped in and cleaned them up. Now GE’s Medical Event Reporting System, or MERS, does something similar. It devours medical data and lets hospitals track errors and close calls to floors and wards with drop-down menus and mouse clicks.
The problem is grave. Medical errors cause as many as 98,000 deaths and cost American medical providers an estimated $29 billion annually.
Anna Pilkington, database coordinator for risk management at Kent Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, knows the story. She says that between 2006 and 2009 hospitals in her state “experienced several serious patient safety events”. What kind? Wrong-site surgeries, medical scans on the wrong patients, incorrect drugs, mislabeled lab tests and other errors. “This was troubling,” Pilkington says.
The hospitals needed good data to attack the problem. They chose GE Healthcare’s MERS. Kent, which had previously tracked mistakes with pen, paper and manual data entry, switched to MERS in 2010. The system has simple point-and-click features and drop-down menus. Doctors, nurses and other personnel enter errors and close calls from any computer connected to the intranet. “It’s much easier to drill down with this,” Pilkington says. “On paper you would have just one checkmark and then you would have to write out the details. Now you are clicking, not typing. It’s also much better for legibility.” Staffers can also report events anonymously, no questions asked.
For Kent, the first year with MERS was a success. The amount of reported events shot up by 284 percent to 3,850. That’s a good thing. The large amount of quality data allowed Pilkington and other authorized personnel to slice the records, find causes and fix them. “We have a much clearer picture of what actually happened,” Pilkington says. “I can sort events by a range of dates, type, the level of harm, or I can break it down by floor.”
But Kent is getting even smarter than that. The hospital “de-identifies” the data of patient information and sends it to the GE Patient Safety Organization (PSO), a national member organization that collects and analyzes data from members across the country. GE uses software from SAS Institute to analyze the data and sends PSO members monthly and quarterly reports. “The PSO scales up over a much larger sample” Pilkington says. “We get a better visibility into what’s going on.”