By France Pitera, vice president, Clinical Information Technology, Hospira

In recent years, we’ve made great strides in healthcare information technology that not only help clinicians provide better care to patients, but also improve safety. One technology tool available today and growing in adoption is clinical surveillance systems, which use existing hospital data to pinpoint potential patient issues and help quickly identify and isolate infections.  Electronic clinical surveillance systems, such as Hospira’s TheraDoc platform, are designed specifically to help detect and track healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), C.Diff (C. difficile-associated disease) and other outbreaks such as the H1N1 influenza virus.

Clinical surveillance systems analyze hospital data in near real time, allowing clinicians to better identify and address changes in patient status the moment cues appear in a hospital’s information technology system. Essentially, they work like air traffic control systems for hospitals, helping to manage data and alert clinicians to potential infections faster than typical manual tracking methods.

As an enhancement to a hospital’s existing EHR system, clinical surveillance systems take full advantage of a healthcare facility’s information technology infrastructure by streamlining the information overload and alerting caregivers to essential data and trends. When a potential issue emerges, electronic clinical surveillance software detects it and provides information to help clinicians to respond with rapid treatment. The technology was designed to help clinicians quickly isolate infections and aid them in curtailing the spread of disease not only within the hospital, but to also help contain it before it impacts the general public.

With HAI outbreaks on the rise, clinical surveillance software systems are becoming more important than ever when it comes to saving lives and healthcare dollars. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at any given time more than 1.7 million people are infected with an HAI and nearly 100,000 people die from them annually.[i] In fact, every patient who contracts an HAI costs a hospital approximately $40,000, and the annual cost is upwards of $33 billion to our healthcare system as whole.[ii],[iii] The unfortunate truth about these staggering statistics is that many of these deaths are preventable.

Hospitals that have implemented electronic clinical surveillance systems have reported that the technology helps save lives and money. For example, clinicians at Johns Hopkins reported dramatic success using TheraDoc, with 50 percent faster confirmation of HAIs and 98 percent accuracy of infection identification.[iv] Caregivers at Franciscan Health Systems in Washington state prevented more than 200 ADEs and saved more then $560,000 within six months of introducing TheraDoc.[v]

At Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois, clinical surveillance technology was integral to the institution effectively managing the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. The system helped clinicians manage and coordinate infectious disease care, which is critical during fast-moving situations like a superbug outbreak. Saint Francis reported that TheraDoc was particularly helpful in providing a mechanism to enable clinicians to track patient information and monitor which patients were being admitted with influenza-like symptoms—ultimately helping the hospital treat patients more quickly and prevent potential infections. [vi]

While the results will vary for each individual facility, these are just a few examples of how electronic clinical surveillance systems help facilities drive better patient outcomes and reduce costs. Currently, TheraDoc is used in almost 300 hospitals in 35 states ranging from 50-bed community hospitals and integrated delivery networks (IDNs) with more than 3,700 beds, to academic and Veteran Affairs medical centers.

The results hospitals have seen since implementing clinical surveillance systems clearly speak for themselves. I can only hope that as we continue to increase IT adoption in healthcare, TheraDoc and other clinical surveillance systems like it will continue to make progress in driving the future of clinical IT — not only to accomplish the goal of saving already limited healthcare dollars, but, even more importantly, to help save lives.


[i] World Health Organization. “Healthcare-associated Infections Fact Sheet,” http://www.who.int/gpsc/country_work/gpsc_ccisc_fact_sheet_en.pdf, Accessed April 6, 2011 

[ii] David Schwegman, MD. Prevention of Cross Transmission of Microorganisms Is Essential to Preventing Outbreaks of Hospital-Acquired Infections, white paper SM2988 Rev A Welch Allyn, Inc., Skaneateles Falls, NY 2008, http://www.welchallyn.com/documents/Blood%20Pressure%20Management/FlexiPort%20Blood%20Pressure%20Cuffs/MC5032WHP%20White%20PaperHR.pdf, Accessed July 20, 2011

[iii] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.) Healthcare-Associated Infections, http://www.hhs.gov/ash/initiatives/hai/, Accessed March 29, 2011

[iv] Song X et al. Benefits of using TheraDoc to assist in surveillance for central line associated nosocomial bloodstream infections (CA-BSIs). Abstract 229. 2006 SHEA Annual Meeting. March 18-21, Chicago, Ill.

[v] Martin JK Jr, Broekemeier RL. Implementation of intelligent interface software to enhance pharmacist clinical interventions in a healthcare system. Poster session presented at: 40th Midyear Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; 2005 Dec 4-8; Las Vegas, NV

[vi]Griffith, Laurie. Computerized Infection Control Surveillance: Insights from the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Managing Infection Control, September 2009: pages 36 – 45