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On the offensive

Trying to prevent patient falls, Tennessee Hospital Association partners with AI company

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After two years in pandemic survival mode, Tennessee hospitals are moving from defense to offense by taking a step forward in preventative care.  

In 2021, there was a jump in serious patient safety incidents in hospitals nationwide, as self-reported to The Joint Commission, a nonprofit health care accreditation organization. The most common incident, by far, was falls — 485 cases — as compared to the next highest category at 97.

In March, the Tennessee Hospital Association’s Center for Innovative Solutions announced a partnership with VirtuSense, an Illinois company that uses artificial intelligence to prevent patient falls.

Using technology similar to that of self-driving cars, VirtuSense touts an ability to reduce falls by an average of 80 to 85 percent, and falls with injuries by more than 90 percent, therefore improving patient satisfaction and saving money for hospitals. It’s also more accurate than other fall prevention solutions, saving nurses from alarm fatigue, the company says.

The technology

Deepak Gaddipati, VituSense’s founder and chief technology officer, invented the walk-through airport scanners that became commonplace earlier this century. In 2011, Gaddipati’s grandmother died 10 days after falling, so he turned his attention to trying to prevent falls and started VirtuSense in 2012. The company deploys a small sensor, typically mounted to a TV across from a patient’s bed. Like self-driving vehicles, it uses lidar, which reconstructs the road in 3D, scanning the road multiple times per second.

VirtuSense sensors scan the patient’s room 30 times per second. The technology uses more than 2 million hours of data on patient movement to identify when they are actually trying to leave the bed or a chair rather than just shifting their weight.

Thirty-to-65 seconds ahead of time, the technology is able to identify the intention of the patient to get up, the company says. Within a small fraction of a second, the sensor alerts the assigned caregiver. The device asks the patient to stay where they are and, with assistance from a nurse on call, can help prevent falls.   

It’s less intrusive and expensive than having someone sit in the room with a patient who is at risk of falling, or watching them on a camera, says VirtuSense Chief Growth Officer Aditya Nath.

Joint Commission data suggests that a fall with injury can cost a hospital somewhere around $15,000 per incident, without factoring in potential lawsuits, so this technology can save hospitals money, too. VirtuSense reports it can reduce costs related to falls by 60 to 70 percent.

Preventing alarm fatigue

Another common fall prevention solution is a pressure pad, which alerts staff when a patient has moved. It often gives false alarms, producing 10 or 15 alarms per day. On the other hand, VirtuSense is 98-percent accurate, Nath says, and it alerts about four-to-five times a day.

“We are alerting very precisely,” he says. “And as a result, the nurses are getting one false alarm every two, two-and-a-half days as opposed to 10-to-15 alarms a day, of which maybe two-thirds of them are false. So the nurses are not chasing their tail; they’re not running after false alarms.”

This partnership is part of the Tennessee Hospital Association’s focus on taking care of nurses, especially in 2022, says Joe Greene, senior vice president at the organization.

“THA as a whole is working and will be working this year on ways in which to help hospitals retain their nursing staff,” he says. “It’s just a huge issue.”  

The future and telehealth

VirtuSense is already in 4,000 senior living facilities nationally, and has more recently expanded into hospitals — at 40 now. As it looks to expand to Tennessee hospitals, it’s starting with trials at HCA locations this spring.  

While the fall prevention technology does not use video, the same device allows for two-way video calls, and the company has begun to step into telemedicine. VirtuSense is also developing technology around pressure ulcers and patches that attach to a patient’s chest to send information on vital signs via Bluetooth technology.

Greene says he could see this partnership growing to utilize some of the telehealth technologies, as well. It’s a move toward the future of medical technology, and a move toward a more preventive position in 2022.

“More companies are using technology and artificial intelligence to solve the issues that their hospitals have and have had for years,” Greene says. “I think you’re going to see more and more technology used in the area of prevention, treatments and all types of patient care.”

Hannah Herner joined the Nashville Post to cover health care in 2022. She previously worked for The Contributor street paper and freelanced for the Nashville Scene.