Lee Serves on UI Medical Data Study Team

Friday, March 13, 2009

University of Iowa News Release

In the current economic climate, using electronic medical records to lower health care costs is receiving a great deal of attention.

It's a good idea, but, for some specialties, maybe not in the way most people imagine, said Franklin Dexter, M.D., Ph.D., University of Iowa physician and expert in operations research.

Dexter and colleagues -- including John Lee, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering -- have devised a way to use electronic medical data to make inroads into one area of medicine in which it has been notoriously difficult to control costs -- operating room (OR) and anesthesia scheduling. The changes help OR managers better estimate how long a particular case will last, making it easier and more cost-efficient to schedule subsequent cases in the same room.

"It isn't having electronic medical records that reduces costs, but rather how the information from electronic medical records is used," said Dexter, professor of anesthesia at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. "In practice, much of the cost reduction is from using electronic medical record data for managerial purposes."

The new system, which Dexter described in the March issue of the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, combines information about a patient's vital signs in the OR with historical data about how long cases typically last and applies statistical mathematics to provide realistic estimates of the remaining time needed for an on-going OR case. Critically, this information is updated continuously as the case continues -- a process that is currently done manually.

The data-crunching performed by the system can be augmented by a real-time estimate from the surgical team on the time remaining for the case. The OR staff provides this information in response to an instant message sent by the system that essentially asks, "How much longer?" The response is automatically plugged back into the calculation to improve the accuracy of the time-remaining estimate.

In addition to Lee and Dexter, the study team included Richard Epstein, M.D., at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and Johannes Ledolter, Ph.D., UI professor of management sciences.