Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder


A friend of mine was prepped for 2 days with nil by mouth a month or 2 ago for urgent cancer surgery. The first day she got bumped and the 2nd day was the start of a radiographers strike. Last night she was prepped for an 8 hour operation and got bumped due to a critical case that suddenly appeared. We thought she was criticial, but obviously that’s not for us to judge.

I’ve asked the question before “Is hospital the best place to be when you are sick?” and pretty  much decided unless it was a private hospital, possibly not. But of course most of us don’t have any choice especially as we get older.

It is nice to see that some things are improving. For example Auckland Health Board has decided to send some patients to private clinics for radiation treatment to reduce waiting times.

I had blogged previously about waiting times at North Shore Hospital based on experiences waiting with family members in A & E and subsequently in corridors in some cases for days, without being assigned to wards. Each time we were told that it was an exceptional case and we were just unlucky. A registrar was sick and therefore his team couldn’t operate was a common excuse. Think about it, an entire team doesn’t operate because one person doesn’t turn up? Maybe they were stretching the truth, being they are short staffed and can’t afford another registrar, and they didn’t turn up because they didn’t exist.

According to the reports, North Shore Hospital is improving and it is now only the 3rd worst in New Zealand. North Shore Hospital supports North Shore and Waitakere with an excess of 400,000 population and rapidly growing. Of course things will change with the new Super City, but the problems won’t go away.

As you can see in previous blogs I’ve written such as ‘76 Deaths, Surgical Mistakes in New Zealand Hospitals‘ I have been pushing for more specialized technology to streamline processes for many years. The technology has been around for a long time, yet we still seem to rely heavily on paper. Tablet and handheld computing has been around for a long time. Most of us use WiFi in the home, in cafe’s, at the airport and understand the power of dealing with information once, accurately and allowing instant access to anyone who needs it in a timely fashion. That’s how we live.

I now see bar codes on patient wrist bands, but I don’t see them being read by a handheld computer to check for allergies, conditions etc at the bedside. This technology could have saved many NZ lives at a tiny fraction of the cost of their lost lives, productivity etc.

When I started promoting this technology, it was with Pocket PC, Palm and Symbol technologies (handheld computers, 3D Bar Code Readers, Portable Printers, Digital Cameras which were being used in many US and European hospitals and that was 20 years ago!

Today there is superior technology such as the Panasonic Mobile Clinical Assistant CF-H1 which runs on Windows 7. The video is pretty corny but it really does illustrate how efficient it is to use mobile technology. Of course this technology has a rugged drop spec, is chemical resistant, lasts 6 hours on a standard battery.

This technology means everyone is in sync and has access to critical data on demand. Paper gets misplaced in hospitals. I had one visit with a daughter that was delayed by 90 minutes simply because someone had misplaced her file. Data can be shared with specialists and medical staff in and out of hospital, including images such as scans, x-rays, photos, test results, charts and graphs. Allergies and condition interactions can be monitored to minimise risk of causing new problems, doses can be confirmed, approvals provided remotely. Pretty much the whole world’s medical knowledge is available online today.

Today’s world should be about harnessing technology to work smarter rather than harder. I suspect the focus is on cost of the technology because our hospitals are run by administrators tasked with saving money. Of course they are largely man aged by politicians. If health is a major election platform every election, why is it that the performance is still so poor?

Next time you are in hospital, have a look at how they use or don’t use technology. Think about how you operate in your business. Think about what’s at stake and ask them why they do things the way they do.

We have national elections next year. They will be talking about improving the health system. Will they be talking about improving the ICT structure and putting information in the hands of the clinicians? Or will they be talking about saving money, improving the monitoring of staff performance and measuring waiting times in A&E?

We have an ageing population and growing population. They are going to need more services and we could increase our throughput, reduce patient risk, significantly improve outcomes by harnessing technology, working smarter rather than harder, expecting great results from staff working double shifts several times a week.

76 Deaths, surgical mistakes in New Zealand Hospitals


As one of the old blues songs goes, ‘I laugh just to keep from crying’.  This morning the headlines are out there nationally and internationally. MSN tells the story that in the YEAR ended July 2008, 76 people died out of a total of 258 incidents, that is those that we now about, in New Zealand hospitals.

The story says that the Ministry of Health’s Quality Improvement Committee went on to say that each of these deaths and incidents were avoidable.

The NZ Herald had the story on the front page of the printed edition, but semi buried on the net. They quoted the Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson as saying that it was not a surprise and the story continued to say that ‘Reporting is voluntary and District Health Boards do not know how many incidents are unreported.

Incidents included people’s teeth being accidentally removed, 2 patients being given 10 times the needed dose of medicines, in at least one case, morphine, another patient was booked in, anaesthetised and sent to the operating theatre for an eye surgery they had already had 2 weeks prior. Mistaken identity is another common thread.

Does this come as a surprise to you? It doesn’t to me.

I wrote about these sorts of issues in this blog in February last year. I also presented one of the solutions that has been used in hospitals in the US for many years, at least 15 years ago when Welch Allyn (a well respected technology provider to the health industry) first brought out 2D bar code scanners with the ability to read complex bar codes on patient wrist bands and patient record folders, containing a huge amount of patient information, without requiring access to the hospital’s computer systems. All they would have needed was a number of scanners and a handheld computer such as a Windows CE device (which could also contain a database of things like drug interaction data, i.e. don’t use this drug in combination with that one.

Back in the late 80’s we were already able to come up with a solution that would keep track of patient records folders (which always seem to go missing when you visit the hospital) and are able to identify not only exactly what they are in hospital for, but also things like allergies (especially to drugs such as penicyllin) and any other relevant information such as blood type, currently prescribed drugs (both by their GP and in the hospital and much more.

I presented these concepts and more to Auckland Hospital and the Waitemata DHB. The solution was simple and low cost, but they chose the lower cost option of doing nothing.

So they saved some money and chose to ignore solutions which 20 years ago were strting to be installed in some hospitals in the US. How many lives could have been saved in those years?  I shudder to think. Of course there are also many living victims, who have had to have surgery repeated to remove items accidentally left in their bodies, or many of the other incidents. What about the family of those who died?

So I have a couple of questions:

  • When everyone in the industry new these things have always happened in the industry, why was nothing done about it?
  • Why is it voluntary to report incidents? Why isn’t it mandatory?
  • How many more incidents actually occured that weren’t reported?
  • What are they going to do about it?

You can read the damning report for yourself by downloading this pdf.

If you don’t want to, check out a few of these incidents from the report:

  • Several mental health patients who committed suicide when they should have been under close supervision, or who were discharged and then killed themselves.
  • A patient who died because of confusion over resuscitation status
  • A patient who’s tests suggested cancer which was overlooked
  • Accidental removal of a breathing tube from a ventilated patient
  • Accidental bowel perforation during gallbladder surgery resulting in fatal multi organ failure
  • Death of a mother from post partum hemorrhage due to a number of  ‘errors’

The list goes on for 84 pages and these are only those which were voluntarily reported!

So is the hospital the best place to be when you are sick? You decide.

Are there solutions? Yes there are and there have been for many years. I introduced some of them over 15 years ago and my ideas weren’t new, they were already being introduced into US hospitals at the time.

Are they going to do something about it? I hope so. My concepts don’t solve all the problems, but they could have saved several of these poor people and their families. Who is going to take responsiblity for this? I put it to you that the cost of the solutions is far less than the consequences of not using them at least 76 times over.

If you ask me, the government needs to step in now and do something about it. In many cases there are very simple technologies that will if implemented save many lives, but will also introduce sgnificant cost savings through eliminating some of the inefficiencies that waste time and money.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)