BlackBerry at D.C. VA Medical Center: Saving Heart-Attack Victims with Handhelds

The Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center is the first hospital in the United States to employ a fully-automated version of mVisum's mobile EKG-monitoring application. And the app's not only helping to save the lives of heart-attack victims; it's reducing the average length of cardiology patient-stays and overall healthcare costs. Here's how.

By
Thu, August 27, 2009

CIO — Modern medicine and technology go hand-in-hand. For years, we've come to associate a hospital not only with the patients it houses and medical professionals who work there, but also the machines and gadgets that aid doctors and nurses in our care. As we see in person, or on episodes of ER, we recognize the blood-pressure sleeves, the beeping heart-rate monitors, and IV machines.

image of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Seal with BlackBerry Bold
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Seal with BlackBerry Bold and mVisum

But wireless technology is really just now coming of age in the medical field. For example, emergency room physicians and surgeons are some of the few modern professionals who still carry around pagers. Yes, pagers.

That seems to be changing, however. In fact, doctors and nurses are surrendering their antiquated gadgets of yesterday in exchange for today's powerful, cutting-edge smartphones, says Fraser Edward, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's (RIM) Manager of Market Development for Healthcare.

Many medical professionals have resisted the move from traditional "feature" cell phones, pagers, recorders and other "old-school" gadgets to smartphones due to security concerns and comfort with existing technologies, says Edward. This made BlackBerry an attractive device for moving to the next wave of mobile technology. RIM has a reputation in the mobile industry of having the strongest (and most strict) security safeguards.

Dr. Divya Shroff, chief of staff for informatics at the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center (DCVAMC), agrees. In fact, 11 DCVAMC cardiologists have been successfully using a custom BlackBerry application for heart-specialists for more than six months.

(For additional innovative ways smartphones are being used in medical environments, read " Dr. BlackBerry: Eight Apps Making Medicine More Mobile.")

Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the EKG Smartphone Project

The Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center is one of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) 153 nation-wide medical centers. The department also has some 737 community-based outpatient clinics, 225 vet centers, 135 nursing homes and 47 "domiciliaries." (About half of all U.S. healthcare professionals have some sort of VA training, including more than 65% of practicing medical doctors, according to the VA.)

Aside from being big, the department has also made a lot of news the past year. During his campaign for the White House, President Obama made medical and psychiatric care for veterans a high priority in his platform. He wanted them to be operating in a more comprehensive way, and, as it likely implies, that means staff must communicate effectively.


Dr. Divya Shroff, Chief of Staff for Informatics, Washington D.C. VA Medical Center
Dr. Divya Shroff, Chief of Staff for Informatics, Washington D.C. VA Medical Center

That's where Dr. Shroff comes in. She came to DCVAMC as an internal medicine physician a little more than six years ago. She quickly "fell in love with the IT side of medicine," and has become the center's de facto "CMIO," or Chief Medical Information Officer. She works closely with the center's CIO, but still regularly sees patients.

"The U.S. VA has been on the cutting-edge of technology advancement for the past decade," Shroff says, citing its widespread use of electronic medical records (EMR), as an example. The DCVAMC's Electrocardiogram (EKG) Smartphone Project is just the latest illustration of the VA's commitment to medical technology, according to Shroff.

Due to the department's robust EMR initiative, much of its patient data is already available electronically. Such an online format creates fewer challenges in the effort to bring such information to mobile devices, Shroff says.


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