Apella Devotes AI to Process Improvement in Operating Rooms

Artificial Intelligence can exploit fairly simple technologies to create significant efficiencies. For operating rooms, Apella Technology uses four cameras, placed around the walls, to collect data that saves precious time.

I recently talked to David Schummers, founder and CEO of Apella, about their new AI-based service for hospitals. He discussed the kinds of problems they are trying to solve.

Time Is of the Essence

In ORs as in many other areas of health care, too many tasks that could be done well by computers are being assigned instead to people, with resulting errors and inefficiencies. Schummers estimates that half of clinicians’ time is spent on documentation and communications.

Take a basic question: When has the patient been brought into the operating room? Currently, the person who brought in the patient has to update the record. Even then, someone has to fetch the doctor or place a phone call. Thus, patients often wait several minutes for the arrival of the doctor. Sometimes, Schummers says, patients are even anesthetized for long periods before surgery starts, which is both expensive and dangerous.

A lot of ORs are empty longer than necessary, perhaps because clinicians don’t know that the cleaners have finished.

Wasted time means lost revenue. But the range of simple communication tasks assigned to staff also takes up time they want to spend with patients. Both patient care and staff morale can improve from efficiencies in OR use.

Furthermore, hospitals are known to be major energy consumers and polluters, so increasing their efficiency is good for the environment.

So Apella offers simple benefits to people who need to know what is going on inside the OR. But it’s real benefits come from data collection and analysis for process improvement. We’ll look at the various aspects of Apella in this article.

Simple Monitoring Technologies

Apella places one camera on each wall of the OR. Each camera has a broad enough angle of vision to take in everything between the walls of the room. Thus, with all four cameras running, Apella’s cloud-based AI service can capture everything that goes on.

And because computers are doing the work instead of people, Apella can track a lot more data than the hospital can ask people to track. Incidents captured include when the patient arrives and leaves, when anesthesia begins, when the sterile equipment arrives, when the staff arrives, when the surgeon starts and finishes, when the cleaners arrive and leave, and more.

Schummers says that the company began gathering data on ORs four years ago, and employed technologists who had worked in other industries such as autonomous vehicles where environmental sensors derive data. Now, they find that their service can start deriving accurate and useful data one week after being installed in a new hospital.

Analysis for Process Improvement

The data collected by Apella can identify inefficiencies in operations and other activities, or simple times when a room is unnecessarily empty. Was the operation held up because a needed instrument wasn’t there? Was too much time left between operations?

Process improvement is currently hard because hospitals don’t have accurate and complete data. Apella hopes to fill the gap with more data as well as more granular data.

I was impressed that this company could do so much with fairly simple technology. They don’t need to scatter RFID chips or complex sensors around the room: just four simple cameras. From that data, AI identifies trends and anomalies. Process improvement experts can build on this information.

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