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Supporters Look to Make Oregon's Hospital Capacity Technology a National Tool

Analysis  |  By Scott Mace  
   October 19, 2022

Recent wildfires are a fresh reminder of the value of the real-time dashboard, which allows health systems to manage resources and transfer patients as needed.

The wildfires flaring this week are a reminder that Oregon is one of the only states in the country with the technology to provide healthcare officials with a real-time, statewide dashboard of staffed hospital beds, ventilators, and resources such as negative pressure rooms.

For Staci Sparks, vice president of nursing at Asante, a three-hospital system in southern Oregon, the dashboard is a welcome tool. Just two years ago, the evacuation zone for one wildfire included Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

"At that point, we were trying to figure out if we need to evacuate people," she says. "There was nowhere else for them to go here. We were in a high-capacity situation, and we're somewhat geographically isolated. This system gave us a state look to see what hospitals had beds and capability, and where to get them to the right place."

Staci Sparks, vice president of nursing, Asante. Photo courtesy Asante.

The system was established in 2020, using GE Healthcare Command Center technology to address hospital capacity issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. With funding from the state, it has not only continued and grown past the peak of the pandemic, but was spun out of its incubator at Oregon Health & Science University to become Apprise Health Insights.

The company continues to seek funding from Oregon and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says CEO Andy Van Pelt, who also serves as executive vice president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS), under which Apprise Health Insights is operated as a for-profit subsidiary and data arm of the organization.

The real-time dashboard facilitates the quick transfer of patients to appropriate facilities as needed, and is gradually replacing the state's older tech platform. So far, Van Pelt says, the new system has automated 85% of the 300 data fields in the legacy system.

That migration speeds up all reporting, while freeing up staff previously dedicated to the manual reporting processes in the older system, he adds.

"The governance committee is made of health system patient coordination and patient flow folks that represent the seven trauma regions around the state of Oregon," Van Pelt says. "They meet regularly with the state, we come up with policies and procedures and workflows, and how and when the data can be used, and for what purposes."

Apprise Health Insights hosts the system and online dashboard, monitors all data feeds, and conducts all education and onboarding of users of the dashboard, he says.

And that's been a relief for Asante.

"Getting through the pandemic was a little bit easier than post pandemic, because there was this burning platform," says Sparks. The end of the staffed bed crunch "gave us some time afterwards to go back and say, how would we do this differently from a local perspective and also from a state perspective? And learn those lessons and apply them to other scenarios that could occur."

Part of that is understanding what a system driven by data uploads from electronic medical records can offer, and what its limitations are.

"Electronic medical records don't always have the best reputation in the industry," Sparks says. "In the future, we need to view technology as a tool, which is what it is. The intent is to make it easy to do the right thing for patient care, and to make it easy to do the right thing for our employees' workloads."

"This is really an exercise in trust building," Van Pelt says. "It creates an actionable data set that at the end of the day really impacts a patient's care [to make it] quicker, more efficient, and more appropriate. … During the Labor Day fires in September of 2020, we had to evacuate five hospitals in a 24-hour period. We were grateful to have the first version of this."

Andy Van Pelt, vice president, Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and CEO, Apprise Health. Photo courtesy Apprise Health.

Apprise Health Insights is talking to about a dozen states about adopting this technology. In addition, Van Pelt says, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has introduced legislation to modernize real-time data for hospital data and emergency response nationwide.

Alaska's chief medical officer Ann Zink "is a good friend of ours and is looking at potential legislation to modernize capacity-type data around the country," Van Pelt says.

As for Sparks, the dashboard helps her grow into her new role as vice president of nursing at Asante, the first such vice president over the entire system.

"My learning curve has been steep for the first four months," she says. "It's doing more listening and observing than acting or decision making. In six or 12 months, that will shift. You need to understand what you're working with before you can ask people to make changes or before you can make decisions that really impact their work."

“Electronic medical records don't always have the best reputation in the industry. In the future, we need to view technology as a tool, which is what it is. The intent is to make it easy to do the right thing for patient care, and to make it easy to do the right thing for our employees' workloads”

Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.


September 2020 wildfires required the evacuation of five Oregon hospitals in a 24-hour period.

The dashboard helped hospital emergency capacity planners just months after it was put to the test during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed federal legislation could bring the system to other states nationwide.

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