Date: June 3, 2015
Host Kevin Price and Medical Informatics CEO Emma Fauss discuss Medical Informatics’ role as a catalyst in the alarm management and broader healthcare technology industry.
The Price of Business Show is broadcast on the Houston home of Bloomberg Radio.
Listen to the complete interview here:
Kevin Price (KP): Welcome back to The Price of Business. I’m your host Kevin Price, talking to you about news and your business. I’m going to spend some time with Emma Fauss; she’s with a company called Medical Informatics Corporation. And you’re corporately located out of Houston?
Emma Fauss (EF): We are. We’re based right next to Texas Medical Center.
KP: You guys —except for the medical part; we’re the medical capital of the world—you guys kinda reek of something out of Silicon Valley. You know, when I look at your website, look at your names, in terms of offices and experiences…can you explain that, is that part of an intentional culture?
EF: So, we are a start-up company; we’ve been incorporated since 2010. We actually relocated to Houston in 2011 so we could be next to the Texas Medical Center. So we’re not originally from Texas, but we love Texas! (laughs)
KP: So where’re you guys originally from?
EF: We’re from Virginia.
KP: Virginia? Okay.
EF: Yeah. So we basically bring data analytics to the patient bedside where we can help improve patient experience and reduce costs so we can reduce healthcare costs.
KP: So, I see with the two original people…I assume you and Craig?
EF: Yup, Craig and I are the co-founders of the company.
KP: You both have that VA, that UVA background.
EF: Yup, we both did our PhD’s at the University of Virginia.
KP: Yeah, absolutely. So, what is your degree in? Looks like engineering.
EF:It was…electrical engineering.
KP: And he apparently is a mechanical engineer, right?
KP: Oh, chemical. So you guys are like diabolical mad scientists?
EF: A little bit. But we’re a little bit of odd ducks. We have very diverse backgrounds. I have more of an art background, a little bit of risk analysis experience and venture capital, and since 2010, I’ve been working on the startup. And Craig, he does a little bit of everything. He’s actually a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and works with Texas Children’s Hospital to develop predictive algorithms of disease.
KP: And I see he did a TED talk.
EF: He did.
KP: Where did he do the TED talk?
EF: Here in Houston.
KP: How often do they do those?
EF: They usually do it once a year, a conference, sort of…in Houston; they have one per year.
KP: When do they do it?
EF: It’s been varying…once a year, usually in the fall.
KP: I want to do a TED talk.
EF: You should totally do one (laughs)
KP: I have one on why we believe what we believe.
EF: Well, that’s an interesting topic.
KP: ‘Cause you, see we’re so focused on—and it’s funny because I believe in absolute truth, you know, because of my theological background—but in reality, it’s based on what everything is based: on our culture, our background, even our personality type…our 16 personality types.
EF: And how we’re trained.
KP: And, how we’re trained…exactly right.
EF: In medicine, what we often see, as an innovative company coming into health care, is that you have to be able to bridge the gap across many different disciplines. For example, physicians are often trained to make snap decisions and be very proficient in treating sick patients and if they have to change treatment in a few seconds, they can do that and adapt, almost intuitively, but an engineer often has to build a plan. They execute, they account for risks, and if they encounter a hurdle, they slightly pivot their path.
KP: A medical doctor’s only going to kill one person, but an engineer’s going to kill thousands (laughs).
EF: Well, let’s hope not.
KP: But in that whole same thing, you and I could kick out for hours, so you do need to talk about your company at some point. We have some extra time, so we could go on a little longer—I can already see that. but like, an OD versus an Md… the way they would both technically do things. They’re both recognized as medical doctors, and yet their whole tactical approach is different from one another.
EF: Exactly, so building innovative tools and analytic tools in this space can actually be very challenging, just because you have to bridge so many different backgrounds to create novel analytic solutions. So what we’re actually focused on right now is the area of alarm management and helping hospitals reduce alarm fatigue.
KP: Nice segway of getting back to what we’re actually talking about (laughs). Nice job! I like that… and you said you’ve never done radio before! You sound like somebody who has. In fact, you sound like the host at this point (laughs). So, let’s talk a little bit about that talk a little about, about the preexisting paradigm that existed in terms of the medical field, conducted itself in your domain area, how you’re creating a paradigm shift…that’s what new companies, new startups are trying to do.
EF: Right, so alarm fatigue has been quite big in the field. Right now, you see a lot of organizations like Joint Commission and ECRI institute going out there and saying, “Alarm fatigue is a national patient safety goal.”
KP: Tell us exactly what alarm fatigue is.
EF: Okay, alarm fatigue is…so if you or any of your loved ones have been to the ICU recently, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s a constant stream of alarms. In fact you can see a nurse—like a typical nurse has a 12 hour shift; she’ll have a 1,000 alarms that are coming to her in that 12-hour period.
KP: That’s crazy!
EF:Yeah, so you can imagine, in that experience—whether either as the nurse or the patient or the care provider—you’re constantly overwhelmed with this noise, and it becomes background noise. You can miss alarms; you can miss important alarms, not because you’re lazy, not because you’re not paying attention, but because there’s just this onslaught of constant noise and it creates a very dangerous situation.
KP: Are all alarms similar?
EF: They’re different noises based on different priorities, but you have tons of different machines. Ever since the 1940’s when you started to see ventilators and cardiac heart monitors, there’s been more and more devices in patient bedsides in these intensive care units, and each of these units has a variety of different alarms they can emit; and when we think about perception, how many different sounds an individual human can perceive and understand the difference of, just in general training…
KP: I would assume, many of them tune out most alarms except for the ones that are actually alarming, you know what i’m saying, like someone’s flatlining (laughs).
EF: Well, the actual critical alarms…those are very concurrent.
KP: And the rest is like “Ehh, that’s not important.” They create a filter.
EF: They do create a filter, just like you would do with any white noise in the background. And, that’s not to say they’re not cognizant, and they don’t try to get to their patients because they really do care; but you know, there are statistics that show 95% to 99% of those alarms are nuisance alarms…in other words, non-actionable. So, in other words, what we’ve done from a big data, analytics perspective, is that we’re coming in there and tapping into data streams and device data that have typically not been accessed before and stored for large periods of time. And we’re able to transition that broad data into actionable information for hospitals and say, “This is actually how you can reduce the nuisance alarms. Here’s how you should set your limits on your devices. Here’s how you can introduce effective change within the workflow of the different care providers in order to actually get meaningful alarms to those care providers.”
KP: So tell us what they looks like.
EF: Yeah, what that looks like is we offer a variety of services and software solutions because we’re a software company, and we have a bunch of different analytic reports that prescribe to the hospitals what they can do to improve their alarms, and then we have software solutions that help different decision makers answer questions. Like, we have dashboards that give real time awareness of alarm situations across an organization for decision makers; we even have patient specific tools that calculate analytics on a per patient basis to help the physician or care provider to understand how the alarms should be set for the patient, so where we really excel is in that concept of doing real time analytics for individual patients at the bedside to make meaningful change and improvement in their care.
KP: So, all of the alarms…they’re from machines?
EF: Yup, they’re from machines.
KP: So all of these autonomous machines, from various companies…are all making various alarms, none of which have any complement to any other machine, per se?
EF: A lot of them are traditionally non-networked and non-integrated, so you’ll have the vent going off, and sometimes the vent’s not even connected to the internally paging systems, so you’ll have vents going off in a room, and if the door’s shut you can’t hear them.
KP: So you’re trying to synchronize all of them, trying to make into a more orderly model, and when I say “trying,” I assume you’re already doing all of it?
EF: Oh yeah, we’re already doing it…our largest partner, and the place where we love to be, is Texas Children’s hospital. They are really innovatives in trying to improve care, and we’ve actually been working with them since 2011. They were actually one of the reasons we moved down to texas, and we’ve been helping to reduce alarms in their units so they can have quieter ICU’s.
KP: Yes, so, how many alarms did they hear an hour in your model?
EF: So, currently, right now, it’s a little bit hard…per hour, for a 12 hour shift, we’ve seen reductions of upwards of 25% of one type for alarm we focused on. We’ve gone from— I’ll give you an example—SPO2 probes, which are known to be some of the worst alarms out there
because they jitter and chat all the time. We’ve gone from seeing 80 alarms in a shift to 70 alarms in a shift. They don’t seem like huge strides, but we’re making essentially very measured and targeted approaches so we don’t introduce risks to the patient because that’s really what it’s about…it’s about reducing the risk of too many alarms out there that are non-actionable and getting to the actionable alarms.
KP: Yeah, stop the “cry-wolf’s.”
KP: Yeah, ‘cause we all know what that does…all right, very interesting, and of course, you have—I guess you could say “groups”—that you serve beyond the alarm committees: the resources, the committees, but it’s really obviously in the hospital community; that’s who your primary clients are.
EF: Yup, we work directly with hospitals, and we also work with a lot of the other vendors that are out there that are helping to introduce secondary notifications technologies, like smart phones in hospitals. So we integrate with them and help to provide that actionable information to that care provider.
KP: Emma Fauss…she is with Medical Informatics Corp.
EF: Yeah, and you can find us at endalarmfatigue.com.
KP: Endalarmfatigue.com…sounds like a good idea. All right, when we come back tomorrow, much more for you. Thanks for being with us.