Health care provider Kaiser Permanente has one foot in the future as it works to transform the health care industry with technology. At the Kaiser Permanente Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center in San Leandro, Calif., state-of-the-art gadget testing and innovation is happening throughout its simulated hospital rooms, outpatient clinic, and "hobby lobby."
This living laboratory is researching new ways to use emerging technology to make health care more efficient and patient-friendly. Products that get the go-ahead usually undergo additional testing at various Kaiser Permanente medical centers across the U.S.
Some tools being researched, like this laser-projected keyboard, were designed to cut down on grime. Flat surfaces, like a table top, are easier to clean than standard computer keyboards.
Paper is becoming obsolete in Kaiser's medical facilities across the country; it is one of the only health care providers that has completely digitized its patient's medical records. One step of going digital is creating a way for doctors to check and update patient data more efficiently (without pen and paper).
At the Garfield Innovation Center, Kaiser developed electronic medical tablets. These tablets allow nurses and doctors to do data entry and get access to patient information from any hospital anywhere. They are already being used at Kaiser facilities in Southern California.
"What's so neat about this (medical tablet) is that is has a digital camera on the back and a bar code scanner on the side," says Sean Chai, senior IT manager at the Garfield Innovation Center.
The camera is used to record patient conditions and the bar code scanners can be used for patient identification and dispensing medications. These tablets also have sealed screens, so they can be dunked in water and washed.
Walking down the simulated hospital hallway at the Garfield Innovation Center, visitors may run into this autonomous robot announcing that it's "crossing the hallway." It uses the building's floor plans to navigate the hospital over a Wi-Fi network and "hand" deliver supplies and medications to doctors and patients.
In Kaiser's simulated operating room, engineers are testing out some of the newest imaging technologies available. High definition monitors can remove obscuring colors from X-rays and images and let surgeons aggregate information on patients. The room is equipped with a digital camera in the corner that can teleport what is going on during operations.
Remote consultation and at-home care is expected to be a major feature of Kaiser's health care program. "Telehealth delivers care through a distance," says Chai.
By communicating with doctors via two-way video conferencing, patients won't have to crowd hospitals and clinics. They can discuss their conditions with their doctors who can diagnose them at home.
Several devices can be hooked up to the TV, including a camera with super zoom for tele-dermatology, a weight scale that sends data to the TV via Bluetooth and a congestive heart failure monitor that keeps tabs remotely.
In Kaiser's simulated home environment, patients can play Wii Tennis, Rock Band and other video games. The Garfield Innovation Center's engineers are using game technologies and systems for out-patient rehabilitation programs. The TV works on gesture-based technology to keep it germ free.
During testing phases, a young cerebral palsy patient came in and used the Wii for the first time. She loved it. "She was sweating and was using muscles she wouldn't use in normal physical therapy," Chai says. Now it's an integral part in her daily physical therapy routine.
Soon doctors and nurses won't have to take off their gloves to put data into the system. They will be able to log in to computers and workstations with facial recognition technology. The camera connected to the high-definition TV takes the typology of each person's face while also learning the subtle changes of their face over time.
As the nation and health care providers struggle to find a way to revamp the century-old model of health care, Kaiser is taking an active role in leading innovation to improve efficiency and their patients' quality of care.