AlertWatch Offers New Way to Monitor Patients in the OR

Watching the real-time feed of AlertWatch patients in the operating room at the University of Michigan hospital is a hypnotic experience. In fact, CEO Justin Adams admits that at least one surgeon he knows watches it almost exclusively at home.

AlertWatch makes software developed at U-M’s Venture Accelerator to monitor patients in the operating room, and on the AlertWatch feed, the body’s major organs are outlined in green, yellow, or red. Green means all is well, yellow means the situation is marginal, and red means there might be a problem.

AlertWatch’s software also monitors fluid levels, blood loss, vital signs, drug levels, and test results, and contains information about pre-existing conditions and the patient’s overall medical history. It can be accessed remotely, so a doctor can check a patient even when the doctor isn’t in the room. Adams says patient handoffs also become easier because everyone is looking at the same screen.

“If it’s installed in every operating room, it becomes really useful as a passive monitoring tool,” Adams explains. The software can lay on top of whatever electronic record-keeping the hospital uses, and can pull in and aggregate data from a hospital’s IT networks.

AlertWatch was co-founded by Jim Bagian, who did a groundbreaking study on improving communication in the operating room while working for the Veterans Administration. What he discovered was that surgeons and nurses often had very different opinions about whether adequate information was being communicated.

Bagian developed a “checklist on steriods” as the result of his study, and that checklist is the root of AlertWatch today. “Jim worked to increase patient safety at U-M hospital, and that’s really what we’re trying to do with AlertWatch.”

Adams says AlertWatch also addresses a much-needed culture change in the operating room, where tablet devices are replacing paper charts as younger, more tech-savvy medical teams seek out digital tools to make their jobs easier. The point, Adams says, is to get away from a system that pages doctors for anything less than a genuine emergency.

AlertWatch plans to sell its software to hospitals using a subscription model, charging an annual fee per bed. Adams believes that in an era of high malpractice insurance rates, if AlertWatch prevents one mistake, it will pay for itself.

He also says an intensive care unit version of the software is currently in development, while the OR version has been submitted for FDA approval. Adams hopes that approval will be final by the summer.

Adams says AlertWatch is currently being used at U-M as well as two other teaching hospitals outside of Michigan. The company did an anonymous survey to gauge user feedback, and found the residents and fellows loved it while more “seasoned” doctors gave it about a 50 percent approval rating.

“For being the first version of the product, that’s a pretty high rate of satisfaction,” he says.

AlertWatch is waiting until it gains a little more traction in the market to begin raising a Series A round, but it has scored about $1 million in seed capital so far from angel investors and Ann Arbor SPARK. The company’s ultimate goal, says Adams, is to become one of the largest operating room software companies. “The early data is very positive,” he adds.

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