By Christia Gibbons
TNAZ Regional Correspondent
SNIF tags are being used to monitor movement to improve human efficiency.
Itripoli rated it one of the worst new technologies in 2008.
After all, SNIF Tag was a kind of high-tech homing device that allowed pet owners to follow their dogs' activities and social interactions.
The name alone – SNIF tag – might be enough to put off a serious thinker. Not to mention the little bones decorating the device.
Not Kanav Kahol.
An assistant professor at Arizona State University's School of Computing and Informatics, and tech guru at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center's Simulation Education & Training Center, Kahol saw only possibilities.
So while in many quarters dogs are wearing SNIF tags as they walk in parks and frolic at home alone (with owners monitoring what they do during the day), health-care workers at Good Samaritan are wearing the tags in an effort to deliver better patient care.
The tag, which contains an accelerometer and a radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chip, measures the closeness of people to each other and the base station. That information, Kahol said, helps researchers better understand how errors occur and work flow is affected during different hospital scenarios. It's worn in conjunction with portable voice recorders.
"The goal is to make this a system for people to see in real time what is happening in real time," Kahol said. "It's the quintessential fly on the wall."
"Ninety percent of errors are not individual errors, but errors of the system," he said.
Scenarios studied include what happens when the patient enter the trauma center, when a doctor needs to call in a consult, when multiple people are zeroed in on their individual tasks in a group situation and how attentiveness, fatigue, noise, affecting the work flow, and ultimately patient care.
"This is born from the fact that what we need to teach is something they actually have in the environment," Kahol said.
Residents will start wearing SNIF tags in June and July.
Doctoral candidate Mithra Vankipuram works with Kahol and said it's taken almost two years to develop the prototype for the real-time monitor to see different patterns of activities and impact on patients. "So, maybe the sequence needs to change," Vankipuram explained.
Kahol's SNIF work is part of a $5 million, five-year project funded by a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The principal investigator on the overall project is Vimla Patel who is an ASU professor and vice-chairwoman of the biomedical informatics department and director for the Center for Decision Making and Cognition.
"The overall project is about medical errors in critical care and how they're generated," she said. "The idea is: How can they be managed properly?"
Banner joins the University of Texas at Houston and Washington University in St. Louis Mo. in the grant.
Patel calls the SNIF tag research "useful technology that can give real-time data." It allows, for instance, seeing movement during shift changes or in the first three minutes of a trauma event and pinpoint problems without accusing people of any wrongdoing.
"It's not about people, but the environment," Patel said. "Sometimes the environment and resources at hand force you to do something you wouldn't normally do" and through the SNIF tags, problems can be identified and then fixed.
Kahol gives Banner kudos for its leading-edge philosophy when it comes to technology and training. "I would never get 90 percent of hospitals to agree to what I do," he said.
At Banner, general surgeons new to the hospital must go through the Simulation Education & Training Center, which also provides virtual training on highly-specialized mannequins (they can bleed, for instance) and virtual training through computer simulation. Nursing staff and other health-care professionals also train at the center.
The SNIF tags – "We find people want the bones ones," Kahol pointed out – are one just one more way to better to achieve good patient care.
At the SimET center, Kahol said, "We're looking for intended and unintended consequences. Finally, the word ‘quality' has measurable output."