November 10th, 2007

Childbirth and Computer Chips

My wife and I welcomed our third child to the family last weekend, and it was amazing to me how the worlds of childbirth and computer chips are colliding.

The labor and delivery wing of our hospital just started using a new computer system this month to monitor and track each mother and child’s medical records and progress throughout the delivery. Computer screens and drop down menus have replaced paper charts and illegible scrawl.

A computer workstation sat next to my wife’s bed amidst the IV drip, heart monitor and fetal monitor. Different nurses rotated in and out of the room entering data about my wife’s medical history, her medications and any changes in her or the baby’s condition. Heart rates and blood pressures were automatically taken and updated. The doctor and nurses were able to enter data simultaneously from different workstations, whether it was inside the delivery room, in the halls or at the nurse’s desk. Constant care and monitoring.

The staff was still becoming accustomed to this new computerized approach and so there were some of the usual hiccups that come with any adoption of new technology. We had the occasionally frozen computer screens (Aaahh, the hourglass of doom) and some requests for help from the tech support people who were on-hand 24 hours a day (Real geek squads at the nurses stations).

I found out that the computer actually offered “suggestions,” or pop-ups, when certain readings or indications were entered (Blood pressure has decreased. Have you considered…). Our doctor joked that the computer was thorough in its suggestions, but might be a bit pessimistic or alarming to the untrained eye.

Our nurse had the most telling and insightful comment of the night. She knew all of this technology would help with the efficiency of their work and ability to track information, but she was a bit disheartened by the change:

I am supposed to be comforting, observing and supporting my patient, but more of my time is spent looking at a computer screen than your wife.

I understood what she meant. At times, the computer screen seemed to be everyone’s focal point more than my wife. We all knew it would get better over time and the staff was very sensitive and apologetic. After a few hours, the computer faded into the background and when it was “show time” none of that mattered. It was the nurse, the doctor and my wife doing what they needed to do, while the computer hummed in the background.

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