Hospitals turn to robotics to improve surgeries

Meridian Health, others making multimillion-dollar investments in technology

Anjalee Khemlani//October 12, 2015

Hospitals turn to robotics to improve surgeries

Meridian Health, others making multimillion-dollar investments in technology

Anjalee Khemlani//October 12, 2015

Sure, it might be a stretch to say that one has anything to do with the other. But it doesn’t change the fact that technology has continued to invade the health care industry and transform several aspects of care — all focusing on keeping up with today’s on-the-go individuals and tech-savvy millennials.

For instance, Meridian Health is one of several systems in the state that is investing in robots to help enhance patient experiences, but it’s a hefty investment of millions. The Wall-based system has spent about $2 million per surgery-assisting robot and has three currently being used by surgeons.

“I used to joke with my medical staff that a lot of our surgeons were the ones playing Nintendo,” said Dean Lin, president of Ocean Medical Center in Brick.

In addition, a $120 million cancer care overhaul includes three new radiation machines to be used at locations within the Meridian system.

“We see technology as more of a tool, and it helps with our care delivery. It can help clinicians and care givers perform better,” Lin said.

Benefits to patients include faster recovery time thanks to the smaller incisions, leading to less blood and quicker healing. This is also beneficial as a value-care product as health care providers are pushing toward getting patients better faster and keeping them out of the hospitals longer.

An additional benefit is that surgeons using robots to assist in surgeries are able to maneuver in ways humans are not capable of doing, Lin said. For example, a human hand has a certain range of motion, but with a robotic arm, movements can span a full 360 degrees.

But with the benefits, time and resources that go into training surgeons to use the machines, there are some obstacles.

Sometimes, because of the use of the machines, surgeries can take longer compared with traditional methods, while costing more than traditional surgery.

Though it has not affected costs for insured individuals, who are typically only responsible for co-pays and deductibles, the range of costs varies widely for the hospitals and patients.

“There is a great demand for it and we have grown quickly and exceeded expectations,” Lin said.

In addition to machines and the cancer care, Meridian has just finished designing its new high-tech hospital rooms for patients at Ocean Medical Center.

A $19 million project for future patient rooms includes changes oriented around comfort in healing and increasing bedside nurse time, Lin explained.

Up, down, A, B …

A study in 2007 by doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York studied the video-game playing habits of 33 surgeons, and correlated it to their laparoscopic surgery skills. They were tested on a laparoscopic skills and suturing program.

Surgeons who had played video games for more than three hours per week recently:

37% Made fewer errors

27% Were faster

42% Scored better overall

Surgeons whose video game skills put them in the top one-third:

47% Made fewer errors

39% Were faster

41% Scored better overall

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals/ ScienceDaily.com


Some of the changes include being able to plug in an audio device to play music, having a computer by the bedside, antimicrobial materials and fabrics, natural light, sliding doors to bathrooms, as well as having patient supplies in the room rather than a central supply closet.

Ocean is also investing in and expanding its use of a scheduling tool that is increasingly popular for health care providers in the state — especially emergency rooms.

ER wait times are notoriously longer than other medical appointments, so to help streamline the emergency process, Ocean, along with CarePoint Health, is focusing on online tools such as InQuicker.

“It’s like OpenTable. It helps make life easier for people on the go,” Lin said, referencing the restaurant reservation tool.

CarePoint has rolled out a similar tool to serve Hudson County and neighboring county residents.

The tool is visible on the health system’s website and allows patients to quickly choose a time and location for an emergency visit, and can even schedule certain tests like MRIs.

“This new partnership with InQuicker will greatly improve our ability to deliver high quality health care — especially in the emergency department — in the most effective and efficient way possible, said Nizar Kifaieh, chief medical officer at CarePoint.

The system has filters built into it that can flag more serious conditions or symptoms, and once those keywords are detected, InQuicker will then prompt the individual to immediately get treatment or call 911.

But the potential to serve patients more quickly goes beyond the ER and has additional benefits for the unique market that is Hudson County.

“If you focus on the ER piece of it, you are really missing the big picture of where things are going,” said Kirat Kharode, chief strategy officer at CarePoint. “The uniqueness of this market is that many of the people who live here don’t have a primary care doctor, and we have a primary care shortage in New Jersey. Unfortunately, a byproduct of that is many people choose to use the emergency room.”

And beyond the ER, CarePoint is aiming to use the technology as a platform to schedule everything that comes after an emergency visit.

“(Such as) working with our physicians to schedule everything from follow-up appointments, in terms of scheduling MRIs, anything that is needed to fit in that tight timeframe that’s required in order to facilitate TCM, transitional care management,” Kharode said.

And both Ocean and CarePoint agree on one thing in particular: Using the new tech equipment is a significant investment for hospitals, but the idea is to reach new populations and ensure and adapt to the health care needs of tech-savvy millennials.

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