HEALTHCARE ENTERPRISE: Amplion Alert Streamlines Nurse Paging

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System Eliminates Onslaught of Unnecessary Alarms

The job of an air-traffic controller is to ensure that aircraft are exactly where they need to be, whether on the tarmac, runway or in the skies. The task is all about safety. But what about the job of a “care-traffic” controller? Well, it’s much the same, according to Nashville-based Amplion Clinical Communications.

Formerly Dalcon Communication Systems, the company rebranded itself last November with the formal launch of Amplion Alert, its flagship product designed to improve caregiver communication and efficiency in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. At the heart of Amplion Alert is a care-traffic controller, a nurse who monitors a 42-inch display screen at the nursing station to ensure colleagues are where they need to be. As with aviation, the task is all about safety.

“This product is game-changing in terms of delivering patient care,” said Tom Stephenson, Amplion’s new president and chief operating officer. After more than two decades with Healthcare Management Systems in Nashville, Stephenson joined David Condra at Amplion in January. Condra, now Amplion chairman and CEO, founded Dalcon in 1979 as a supplier of microcomputer-based business systems and software. Through the years, company evolved into telecommunications, particularly voice over IP systems, and honed its focus on healthcare.

While deploying such a system in a New Hampshire hospital and listening to the perpetual beeps, buzzes and rings of alarms emanating from patient rooms, Condra asked himself a question: “Wouldn’t it be better if there were a way to let caregivers know exactly which device is sounding and which room the device is in?”

That idea was the foundation of Amplion, which late last year raised $3.75 million in venture capital funding. The financing round was led by Nashville-based Solidus and Council Capital as part of the state’s TNInvestco program. Amplion is using the money to expand sales of its new technology across the country.

Today, Amplion has 23 employees, and Amplion Alert is operational is 14 hospitals and one nursing home. More installations are in the pipeline, Stephenson said. “We haven’t focused a lot yet on nursing homes, but we believe that’s a market that will be there for us,” he added. Medical centers may opt to install the system in one unit or hospital-wide.

When an alarm sounds in a patient room or the patient calls for help, the signal is routed through the Amplion Alert system and the information pops up on the monitor at the nursing station. There, the care-traffic controller generates a text message to the appropriate caregiver, usually a nurse, who receives and answers the alert via a dedicated cell phone. The system is also capable of automatically generating texts reminding nurses of routine tasks such as hourly room checks or periodic repositioning of bedridden patients to prevent pressure ulcers. Using the cell phone, the nurse either accepts the task or notifies the care-traffic controller that he or she isn’t available. Then, another nurse is notified of the alarm.

Once in the patient room, the responding nurse handles the task and then, using an Amplion reporting box in the room, notifies the care-traffic controller that the job is handled. “We use the term “closed loop.” We are, in a sense, closing the loop of that care task,” Stephenson explained. “We’re tracking and confirming the delivery of care at the bedside.” He added that he believes the company’s ability to nab venture capital was based on the innovation and the fact that there’s nobody out there really doing exactly what we’re doing. There are companies that will do bits and pieces of what we do, but not the whole concept of the closed loop, the device in the room and the nurses confirming a task. Nobody that we’ve seen does that whole piece.”

Amplion Alert also is programmed to keep sounding the alarm until it’s answered. “Depending on the type of event, the system has built-in escalations. If nobody responds in a matter of seconds, it automatically goes to the next person. It can escalate all the way up to the chief nursing officer,” Stephenson said.

Fall prevention is an Amplion Alert specialty. Not only does the system alert nurses that a patient is in a dangerous situation, it also issues and repeats a verbal warning to the patient “˜Please don’t get up!” until the caregiver arrives. According to a white paper published by Amplion, falls cost a typical 100-bed hospital nearly $700,000 annually, and that figure doesn’t include the cost of lawsuits and higher liability insurance rates.

Stephenson said hospitals also save money using Amplion Alert because the product improves nurse productivity. In fact, one customer told Stephenson that the system improves teamwork; a caregiver standing at the nursing station can see that one nurse is overloaded and step in to lend a hand.

Yet another benefit of Amplion Alert, and possibly one of the most critical, is the alleviation of what’s called “alarm fatigue.” Stephenson said, “That’s a big issue today. You get so immune to all the alarms going off on a floor that you’re less likely to respond.”

A case study by Amplion illustrated how pervasive and overwhelming continual alarms can be, and how Amplion Alert helps. After observing a 15-bed unit for one week, researchers concluded that more than 2,220 alarms sounded in those seven days; since the alarms sounded in both the patient room and at the nursing station, that was about 4,500 noises. What makes the number even more astounding is that researchers only followed alarms on two pieces of equipment, ventilators and pulse oximeters. Using Amplion Alert in the unit automatically eliminated half the noises, since alarms never sounded at the nursing station. The system also delayed messaging when a patient on a ventilator simply coughed. Coughing normally prompts the alarm, but a three-second delay by Amplion Alert eliminated another 1,670 signals. In total, the system reduced the number of alerts from about 4,500 to 613. With four nurses on the floor equipped with an Amplion Alert cell phone, each nurses received about 154 text messages in the course of a week.

“It’s all about the ability to get the right message to the right caregiver at the right time,” Stephenson said.

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