A disturbing trend in American medicine over the past 15 years has been a steady increase in the number of women suffering serious injury or death following childbirth. In fact, the United States currently has the dubious distinction of the highest maternal death rate in the world among industrialized nations. While there does not appear to be any one cause for this trend, one of the most common problems appears to be the difficulty in accurately assessing blood loss during cesarean-section deliveries. To address this risk, one hospital, Orlando Health invested in an artificial intelligence technology that removes the guesswork from calculating blood loss. Now, Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies has become the first hospital in Central Florida and the largest-volume delivery hospital in the United States to use the technology in its labor and delivery rooms.
"This system takes what has historically been a subjective process - estimating how much blood has been collected by sponges and pads by eyesight alone - and makes the estimate much more accurate," said Mike Schmidt, managing director of strategic innovations at Orlando Health.
Called Triton™, the new technology was developed by Gauss Surgical with significant investment support from Orlando Health Ventures. Nurses use special iPads loaded with the Triton™ app to take digital photographs of all the suction cannisters, surgical pads, sponges and other materials that are used to collect blood during a surgical procedure and weigh them on a scale that is Bluetooth-connected to the app. Using artificial intelligence similar to facial recognition software to read the digital images and analyze data from the scales, Triton™ can precisely calculate the amount of blood that has been collected and let the delivery team know immediately if unexpected blood loss is occurring.
"It allows us to catch hemorrhages much quicker," said Schmidt.
The potential impact of this is huge. Not only can it reduce the need for blood transfusions and shorten the length of hospital stays for patients, it can reduce the risk of serious complications which have been rising nationally.
According to separate studies by ProPublica/NPR and USA Today 50,000-65,000 American women per year suffer some form of serious injury due to complications such as blood loss, increased blood pressure, blood clots or infections following childbirth. As many as 700 of these women die as a result of these complications. Because most deaths occur not in the delivery room, but days or even weeks later when the new mother is at home, the scope of the problem has been slow to be realized, but every analysis seems to agree that it is growing. A recent article on the Harvard Medical School website by Neel Shah, MD, summarized the statistics this way: "This means that compared with their own mothers, American women today are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth."
With rising awareness of the problem, Gauss has been developing the Triton™ technology for several years, and an investment from Orlando Health Ventures helped to bring the technology into the delivery room. The next step will be to use Triton™ in other surgical settings as well.
Approximately 14,000 births happen each year at Winnie Palmer Hospital, making the impact of this technology immediately significant.
"Innovation is happening across healthcare, but it is not happening within hospitals themselves as much," said Erick Hawkins, senior vice president of strategic management at Orlando Health. "Culturally, hospitals tend to be conservative in their approach and have been slow to adopt disruptive technologies. So, at Orlando Health we have made investing in new technologies part of our overall financial investment strategy. This was the perfect opportunity for us to combine a smart investment with technology to improve the outcomes for patients."
The mission for Orlando Health Ventures is to find companies that can generate both a solid investment return for the foundation and that can deploy new beneficial technology into the hospital, said Hawkins.
This is part of an effort at Orlando Health to cultivate a culture of innovation, said Schmidt. The health system has also created an internal innovation incubator to encourage healthcare professionals within the Orlando Health system to turn their ideas into reality. The first team of innovators has been selected and the project is entering a second cycle with applications being reviewed.
"It's exciting to watch," said Schmidt. "We are starting to see the whole ecosystem come together - technology, medicine, finance - and it will produce legitimate game-changing innovations that will improve patient outcomes."