Northwest Michigan Surgery Center in Traverse City is a busy place, averaging about 85 cases a day. That’s a lot of family and friends wondering how their patient is doing, whether at the center or elsewhere.

For those waiting at the center, there is a screen outside the cafeteria that tracks patients (first name only) through the various phases of a surgical procedure. In the past, some people would mill around near the screen, but most would stay in the waiting room, which had more comfortable chairs. The physical layout of the large waiting room wasn’t conducive for video display of information, so nurses and staff frequently were asked for updates on patients, says LoAnn Vande Leest, CEO at the center.

Last fall, an employee thought of an approach to better meet the information needs of family and friends while reducing staff disruption, by using a mobile app that shows the various stages of care that patients transition through. The service builds on real-time locating system technology, known as RTLS, from Versus Technology, as well as the vendor’s OR patient flow software. Northwest Michigan Surgery has used the vendor’s products for five years.

The center became a pilot site and with Versus started working on developing a mobile app along with Traverse City ad agency Flight Path Creative and business consultancy SMB Group in Milwaukee. The app was ready for use by the end of November.

Now, a family member or friend who brings a patient to the center for surgery receives a password that can be used on the center’s web site to download the mobile app; the family member then can give the password and URL to appropriate individuals. The password is changed daily.

The app gives a display with multiple color bars that highlight patient progress during five phases: InTake, PreOp, InOR, Recovery and Ready for Family.

The project cost “wasn’t expensive at all, in the grand scheme of things,” Leest says. The return on investment, while difficult to measure, has been impressive because the benefit is significantly fewer disruptions for nurses and staff. But the big return is better serving family and friends, she adds. “We wanted to have our patients’ families satisfied with our care, and that includes the care of them.”

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