Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Orb has arrived

A couple of weeks ago, our CIO John Halamka started a new feature on his blog about new devices and gizmos. The first one was about the Orb. He writes, "The Orb is a handblown etched glass sphere containing LEDs for every color of the rainbow plus a text pager interface with an XML parser. . . . Metrics are turned into a web service call that results in a page to the Orb every 5 minutes, updating the color."

John noted that you could "place Orbs at the nursing stations, in waiting rooms, or on the CEO's desk etc."

Being an MIT grad (and apparently sharing one of John's geekiness genes), I couldn't resist, and he was kind enough to get one for me and install it. You see it on my desk above. It gives me a signal of how many people are actually in the waiting room in our Emergency Department. The Orb supports 35 different colors and glows blue if no patients are waiting, greens for 1 to 5, yellows for 6 to 10, reds for 11 to 20 and flashing red for over 20.

I know this might seem a little silly to some of you, but I actually like the idea and wanted to see it in action. For people who want to keep track of important metrics but don't want to have to check their computer over and over again, it is a handy tool with lots of applications.

14 comments:

Christian Sinclair, MD said...

It would be great if hooked to a decibel monitor to alert hospital staff when it might be getting a little too noisy. I have seen ICU's and NICU's use these hideous stoplight things, that buzz when you are too loud (slightly counterintuitive), but I think something like this would act as a gentle reminder. It would be great if the decibel monitor could store data as well, so different times of the day could be tracked for areas of improvement.

One could also imagine a wall of these orbs kind of like clocks showing different times around the world. But instead you would have one for hospital census, OR Rooms active, ED wait time, local starbucks line length, etc.

Paul Levy said...

Christian,

No need for another monitor to store the data. We already have all the data, minute by minute, in our information systems, and we use it regularly to evaluate our processes and to try to improve customer service. So, for example, we have data on every aspect of the ED experience (waiting time in the waiting room, time in the ED itself, time to wait for a bed once you are formally admitted, etc).

SL said...

Classy people-counter!
Is your desk always that neat?

Paul Levy said...

Usually. Remember, I have 6000 people I can delegate things to!

Patient Dave, salivating said...

Ooooo, Davey want-want-want. Christmas list. What do these things cost?

Bridgett said...

It reminds me of my days in a catalog company, where there was an overhead bell that would ring when the phone lines clogged up. In retail, of course, any employee could come help man the phones-- it's a little different in health care!

Peter S said...

Paul, I don't get this....exactly what use is it for you, as CEO, to know how many patients are in your ED?

Paul Levy said...

This does not measure the number of patients in the ED. It measures the number of patients who are WAITING to get into the ED. Of course, I am interested in knowing that and lots of other stuff about patient waiting times and flows in the hospital. It is one measure of service quality.

Peter S said...

Paul, I did understand that the Orb is tracking patients who are waiting in the ED. And I know this is a measure of service quality ("duh" as my kids would say). My question is: what use is it for you, as the CEO, to know in real-time, that there are 5, 10 or 20+ patients in your ED? Are you going to rush over to the other campus to help out? Call over and tell them service quality isn't as high as you'd like to see? Make the decision to go on diversion? Presumably at the CEO level, you don't want to be doing any of these things. Couldn't you get the information you need as CEO by looking at trends, rather than in the moment information? Beware, the ORB could become your new blackberry...

Paul Levy said...

Sorry, Peter, I didn't mean to give short shrift to your query, which is a very good one. Thanks for being persistent.

The answer is a little complicated. Sure, I can look at trend info on my computer -- our data systems are awesome! -- but as the days go by, I am unlikely to do that, just because other things always come up.

Part of the job for the CEO is have a sense of the pulse of the place. You do this by looking at data, walking around and talking with staff, reading letters from patients, emails from staff -- lots of things. From all this you compile almost an instinctive view of how things are going and which things deserve your intervention. I think the orb is just one more tool in that toolbox, a visual sense of one metric -- a particularly important one -- that might lead me to ask someone a question that would otherwise be left unasked. Or it might cause me to actually look at the real data trend and ask folks for an explanation.

But you are certainly right: It is not my job to decide on day-to-day operational issues in the ED.

The other part of this is pure curiousity (and fun) and to see how this thing feels in real time, and to explore whether it might be helpful in other settings.

On the addiction side, the good news is that I can always just cover it up with a handy rag!

Guggenhiem said...

Forget the orb, do I spy a piece of quartz rock on your desk?

Paul Levy said...

Nope, it is actually a wonderful piece of jasper, which I picked up at Rock Hound State Park (real real!), in New Mexico. Yup, a state park where you actually get to keep -- legally -- rocks you collect.

jz-md said...

Paul,
As an ED doc, this Orb idea has got me tachycardic. How can it work to inform on the weekends, when the ED backup is the greatest?

Paul Levy said...

It works 24 hours a day. Not that I do! But, I can always check out stats whenever I want.

Sorry to create health problems for you . . .

:))