CIOs Bringing Hands-Free Technology to Hospitals

As more states pass laws regarding cell phone use in cars, the carriers have responded by offering voice-activated features. But driving isn’t the only activity that requires hands-free usage.

The operations that surgeons perform demand similar functionality. That’s why CIO’s at hospitals around the U.S. are beginning to introduce voice-recognition technology.

“We were looking specifically to interact with our data base for information we needed during the procedure,” said Jeffrey White, head of research and information systems for Miami Children’s Hospital’s Cardiovascular Surgery department. “In the operating room, you need to be able to access information and record information, and to do it hands-free.”

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Changing the Game

But the operating room isn’t the only beneficiary. For Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill., the problem centered upon locating and communicating with staff. This traditionally meant paging people via ceiling-mounted speakers, and then waiting for a call back—a noisy, slow and inefficient way to conduct business.

“We wanted all caregivers, especially nurses, to be able to get a hold of each other quickly and efficiently,” said Mitty Adler, Gottlieb’s CIO. “We tried cell phones and pagers, but weren’t happy with either one.”

Like White, Adler implemented voice recognition technology. After a buggy start a few years back, speech applications are emerging in enterprise applications.

Silicon Surgery

As operating rooms go high-tech, there is an increasing array of equipment and monitors that surgeons and their support crews need to operate. London-based medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew, plc. have a created a platform for OR equipment called the digital operating room, which provides a common interface for all the equipment in the O.R.

It enables a doctor to control the heating and air conditioning, move the operating table up or down, change the lighting, and operate any of the medical devices such as pulse monitors, shavers and camera systems.

“It is written on an open architecture,” said Sal Chiovari, vice president for Digital Operating Room. “If a vendor comes out with a product that can be controlled, we can write some code for it.”

Last year, Smith & Nephew introduced a voice interface called CONDOR. With it, the surgeon wears a microphone and activates the system by saying “Condor On.” At that point, a screen displays the devices that are available to control.

The doctor says the name of the device he wants to control and a menu of commands appears. He then verbally selects the desired action from this menu. By limiting the number of commands and displaying these options on a screen, doctors don’t need to memorize the available commands.

“It has the capability of doing full language recognition, but we narrow it down to specific medical terms the surgeon will be using,” said Chiovari. “In surgery, you don’t want random conversation to start driving any of the equipment, so we made a focused group of commands that were very much isolated to the equipment and the equipment functions.”

Voice control is an optional interface that complements, rather than replaces, touch screens. The operating room staff has the option of using either or both methods.

In addition to controlling the OR equipment, there is also a need to manage the flow of information into and out of the operating room. This has been the focus of Jeffrey White and Redmond Burke’s efforts at Miami Children’s Hospital The hospital uses a clinical information system, iRounds, from Teges Corporation of Coral Gables Software. White and Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery, worked with Teges and IBM to create a voice interface for the database.