In addition to his ongoing teaching and surgical practice at Wake Forest Baptist Health, Dr. Clark has been spearheading numerous studies hinging on oncology and elderly patient wellbeing. His latest, “Feasibility of Real-time Location Systems in Monitoring Recovery after Major Abdominal Surgery”, was recently presented at the Academic Surgical Congress in Las Vegas. His study addresses the first of several potential phases aimed at creating an integrated in-hospital system that accurately measures when, where, and how often post-op patients are walking (thereby lessening potential complications and increasing overall patient wellbeing).
Dr. Clark discusses—in layman’s terms—what his data attempts to disclose, and what prompted his research in the first place:
Q: What’s the basis for this latest study?
A: This is a pilot study that determines whether a set of devices can track patients during their stay in the hospital. Hospitals within the United States are massive. There are so many moving parts, that administrative staff often put these digital “tags” on equipment. Doing so allows them to quickly, and cost-effectively locate specific pieces of equipment during their busy daily schedules.
Q: What are these devices, specifically?
A: These “tags” are similar to the technology that’s in security badges, or corporate passes that use radio frequency and infrared signaling to indicate where a specific person or thing is. The network in the cancer center at Wake Baptist is so detailed, that you can tell where things are in patient’s rooms as well as in the hallways.
Q: How did this go from “tagging” equipment to “tagging” patients?
A: A couple years ago, I thought “Why can’t I put those tags on patients?” Not because I wanted to track patients’ whereabouts, but because I wanted to know how often they were getting out of bed to walk—specifically after undergoing surgery.
Q: Why does that matter?
A: When you ask a patient if they’ve walked that day, often times they want to tell you what they think you want to hear. And when you ask a nurse, often times they’re too busy to know specifically how far or often a patient has walked that day. Contrary to common belief, getting up and moving around after surgery actually decreases the risk of complications, and gets patients better, quicker.
Q: Why is that contrary to popular belief?
A: Cancer patients generally don’t like to get out of bed after surgery. And often times, when family and friends are around, patients are encouraged not to move. To “rest”. Compared to cardiovascular patients, who immediately after surgery are all motivated and encouraged to start moving and exercise, there’s a real cultural difference between oncology operative patients and other floors.
Q: What’s your long-term vision for this study?
A: This research was conducted to determine whether we could use this preexisting tracking device to just know if, and how often patients were moving around the hospital. I see this phase of the study as the first stepping stone—ultimately, we’d like to develop a more user-friendly way for patients themselves to engage with the devices. We’re aiming to add a motivational, even competitive component to the system, so that post-op patients are empowered to get walking and thereby encouraged to recover faster.
Q: What are next steps?
A: Next up we’re going to connect these location tracking devices to some sort of app, that would then motivate and communicate with the patient directly—likely via texts throughout the day. So, let’s say a patient is recovering from surgery, and is “competing” with other patients who have just had surgery. This app would enable them to see how far they’ve walked, and incorporate some kind of reward-system of awards or “badges” that would promote increased activity after surgery.
The full report will be linked here once published, but any questions or comments can be emailed to Dr. Clark in the meantime.