NEW PORT RICHEY — Renee Simpson's labor wasn't progressing. She had been induced about 5 a.m., and little had happened.
Yet her obstetrician was still able to see 30 patients in the office that morning and keep tabs on Simpson, ultimately making the call to deliver by Caesarian section that afternoon. A device called AirStrip OB that in March went live at Community Hospital allows doctors to see laboring women's and their babies' vitals directly on a smart phone or computer.
The program delivers vital patient waveform data to remotely access fetal heart rate — including maternal contraction patterns — in real-time directly from the hospital labor and delivery unit to a doctor's smart phone. Additional patient data is also accessible, including nursing notes, vital signs and order results.
"Most of have a smart phone these days," said Dr. Robert Smith, who saw a slight fluctuation in Simpson's daughter's heartbeat that told him the baby wouldn't be able to withstand a long labor. Simpson, 38, gave birth to a healthy 8 pound, 14 ounce girl about 1 p.m. July 1.
"It gave me one thing less to worry about," said Simpson, who was surprised when the nurse told her that her doctor was monitoring her from his phone.
Smith first saw the devices presented at a conference in 2007 and immediately was wowed.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, we've got to have that."
Obstetricians at Community used to rely on what a nurse described over the phone. Sometimes that meant going to the hospital to see it directly and decide how to proceed.
Smith said the new technology makes things more efficient.
"If I'm in the OR finishing up surgery and I've got someone in labor, I don't have to leave the OR. If they need a C-section, I can have them prepped and sent up. It expedites the whole process."
It also lessens the chance for costly medical errors, say administrators who know the statistics for all medical procedures in the U.S., according to the New England Journal of Medicine: 98,000 deaths occur annually due to medical errors, a majority due to poor communication.
"This is just one more thing that produces a better outcome," said Community CEO Kathryn Gillette. She said the hospital's parent company, HCA, began an initiative about six years ago aimed at reducing risk, especially in areas such as obstetrics where the potential for problems and lawsuits run high.
"Now the doctor has information at his or her fingertips," she said. The technology, which went live a couple of a months ago, cost the hospital $25,000 and carries an annual cost of $7,500, small potatoes in an industry that typically spends millions.
Gillette said more of this type of technology is inevitable as hospitals complete the transition to electronic medical records.
Community, which plans to move to a new building in Trinity next fall, is the only hospital in Pasco and one of two in the Tampa Bay area that uses AirStrip OB. The other is Brandon Regional Hospital, also owned by HCA.
Nurses also like the AirStrip, said Mary Catherine LaRoy, director of Community's OB department and longtime OB nurse.
"It puts everyone on the same page," LaRoy said. "It also saves time. You don't have to leave the patient's bedside."
It also makes for happier doctors, who can check on patients during the wee hours without getting out of bed. Before, doctors in doubt would have to get up and come to the hospital.
"Some physicians don't react as well 3 in the morning as they do at 3 in the afternoon," LaRoy said.
Smith admits to being somewhat of a "control freak" and said he likes to check things frequently because the ultimate responsibility lies with him.
"I like to know what's going on," he said. "I'm the captain of the ship."