Plastic babies, fake patient data: Kaiser's mock hospital

The U.S. healthcare business wastes $750 billion a year. To figure out how to save money, Kaiser Permanente opened a fake hospital for brainstorming ideas and testing new technologies.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor on

The U.S. healthcare business wastes $750 billion a year -- that’s 30 cents of every dollar spent. Inefficient operations were a significant contributor to that waste.

Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente operates 37 hospitals with over 160,000 employees. To figure out how to save money and reduce medical errors, they’ve opened a fake hospital and made it a testing ground for new solutions. Technology Review reports.

Most of the research that goes on at the 37,000-square-foot Garfield Innovation Center in San Leandro, California, is focused on testing out new technologies.

It features detailed replicas of hospital rooms with fake patient data loaded onto the bedside computer, a surgical theater with the instruments laid out ready for use, even an ICU with a plastic baby in an incubator.

Ideas about what to test can come from the team of social scientists circulating around hospitals looking for workflow problems. Ideas might also come from technology salespeople, who are asked to install their robotic indoor GPS system or interactive patient information board, for example, in the mock wards of the Garfield center.

Kaiser surgeons, nurses, and janitors come to the center to brainstorm and role-play their everyday jobs. Their feedback helps determine what sorts of equipment the organization buys. Some ideas being deployed:

  • Highly trained, well-paid medical staff spend a lot of time on menial tasks; nurses might spend a quarter of their 12-hour shifts filling in paperwork or getting back and forth from supply rooms. So, hospitals have begun to invest heavily in automation. Wheeled robots that haul trash, food, and other loads around the hospital do the work of 12.5 full-time workers.
  • Mobile pharmacy carts are intended to save on trips to the supply cupboard: an onboard computer tracks all the meds inside and controls access using a biometric lock. But after two days and several miles of testing, nurses said the carts were so heavy they were hard to move around.
  • Nurses have begun wearing a fluorescent sash -- for "don’t bug me" -- when preparing medications. At least a million drug mix-ups occur in the U.S. each year, and many are due to overly busy, distracted nurses. With sashes, errors dropped by 85 percent.

[Technology Review]

Image: Garfield Innovation Center

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards