Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Local News

March 21, 2010

‘Air Strip’ boosts OB patient safety at THC

Helicopters aren’t the only aircraft alighting at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Cleburne.

Storks have arrived multiple times daily for years.

But they’re now equipped with cell phones for mothers and babies along with the customary linen diapers.

Thanks to modern communications techniques adopted throughout the Texas Health system two months ago, obstetricians are able to stay in constant contact with their patients through the OB Air Strip, a cell phone application that carries vital information to physicians.

The state-of-the-art technology allows obstetricians to monitor multiple mothers and babies at multiple locations in a fraction of the time once necessary.

And that’s just fine with obstetricians such as Cleburne’s William Ray Ford, who practices at Texas Health Cleburne and witnesses the OB Air Strip’s benefits every day, sometimes every minute.

“So far, my experience is it’s quick and easy, and I can get information without the delays of operators or being put on hold or waiting for the nurse to put the information in the system,” Ford said. “It’s a time-saver. Most people’s fears center on the possibility of it creating less personal care with the doctor. The reality is that the doctor is sometimes not present anyway. This gets him there quicker sometimes.”

A monitor is placed on the mother. Data flows to a station staffed by nurses and accessible from the doctor’s cell phone. The air strip is the conduit.

“The monitor is constantly gathering data on how much, how frequent, how intense are the contractions, and how the baby is responding,” Ford said. “It provides everything on the bedside chart, and it can graph it in several forms. It’s an overall improvement in care.”

Most patients have no clue the OB Air Strip exists.

“They don’t know about it,” Ford said. “They probably don’t need to know. They’re concerned about having a healthy baby in their arms. That’s everybody’s goal.”

Since the location of his practice has changed, Ford finds himself alerting more patients to the advantages of the new technology.

“I’m starting to tell patients about it. I used to do C-sections right below my office [at the hospital]. Now that I’m a couple of blocks down the street, I’ve had occasional questions about my availability. [OB Air Strip] is a tool that allows me to better manage my time.”

The air strip makes life easier for health care personnel other than doctors, too.

“This is a cutting edge application that greatly improves communication between physicians and nurses, and it improves patient safety and quality of care,” said Kelly Curlee, THC’s supervisor of women’s and infants’ services. “When the physician can’t be near a computer, this allows real time access via cell phone. It is highly secure.”

It’s not merely a doctor-to-hospital patch.

“Nurses can contact the physician regarding the baby’s heart rate and communicate and collaborate just as if [the doctor] were at bedside,” Curlee said, “rather than the nurse giving a description of what she sees and relying on subjective interpretation like in the past.

“Now they can look at the same information at the same time, no matter where the doctor is. This has really improved communication for us here.”

Patient service is also significant, even if the patient doesn’t know exactly how significant.

“I think patients expect us to do what’s necessary to take care of them,” said THC president Blake Kretz said. “OB Air Strip is just an enhancement for the patients. Things can change very quickly in OB, so instant access wherever that physician might be is one more level of security we’re happy to provide the patient.”

Texas Health was out in front of competitors with the air strip technology, Kretz said.

“I think we’re the only hospital system in North Texas that has it right now,” he said. “We piloted the project in Dallas. At the [hospital] presidents’ meeting, we got great feedback from the physicians.

He said the Texas Health system adopted OB Air Strip  quickly because of mobility and the type of information it provides for the physicians.

“We want to stay at the leading front of technology, ” he said.

Similar technology may be on the way for other parts of the hospital, Kretz said.

“The [Texas Health] system is looking at all mobile technologies. There isn’t another specific application like the air strip that’s available right now, but there are other things in development that can link into our electronic health record.”

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