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Hospitals Don’t Have to Make Us Sick and Tired. Here’s Why.

Rule No. 1: People don’t like to wait. Rule No. 2: People don’t like to overpay for things. Imagine what Rule No. 3 is.

If you guessed, “People don’t like to wait an agonizingly long time for something they’re almost sure to pay through the nose for,” then you win my Tuesday prize: Go buy yourself a Starbucks. (Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that something that violates Rule No. 3…?)

Yes, but the Grande Cappa-Line-o aside, there is something worse—a gang of Rule No. 3 scofflaws that has made even the most pleasant and patient of us fume: I speak of hospitals, of course. Waiting times for ERs, elective surgeries, and hospital care across the board—and around the world—have been a cause of consternation for years. In the U.S., according to one report offered in Congressional testimony, 2 million patients admitted to hospitals each year wait 4.3 million days for a bed.

Enter the tools of the digital age: Sophisticated bed management, real-time locating devices for patients and staff, improvements in electronic health records, smartphone messaging services, virtual visits, and advanced information systems are all converging today in a way that offers real hope for efficient hospitals.

At Humber River Hospital in Toronto, tracking devices let administrators know where doctors, nurses, and patients are at any moment, and “back-of-the-hospital functions” from laundry to pharmacy are 75% automated, according to Modern Healthcare writer Beth Kutscher. Massachusetts General has been exploring virtual patient visits—which, in a pilot program, allowed doctors to make a determination on the next steps in care in just 3.6 minutes, versus 18 minutes for an office visit.

One of the more remarkable turnarounds, to believe the numbers, has been occurring at New Cross Hospital, part of the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust in the UK—where, British innovators working with a Pittsburgh–based company, TeleTracking, have reportedly made remarkable progress reducing patient waiting times. Most discharged patients, for example, drop off their real-time location system (RTLS) wrist badges when leaving the hospital, which automatically signals the housekeeping team to clean the empty rooms—an improvement that has helped new beds be available to patients in under 40 minutes, hospital officials say.

And then there’s the inimitable Cleveland Clinic, which was able to grant same-day appointments last year to 98% of those who requested them—an extraordinary achievement for a hospital system that had 6.2 million outpatient visits last year. For part of the reason why, see No. 14 on Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year list.

More news below.

Clifton Leaf
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

FDA approves Allergan's glaucoma gel stent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday approved a glaucoma gel stent that has major investments from pharma titan Allergan. The company has poured $300 million into acquiring AqueSys, whose Xen Glaucoma Treatment System is meant to treat so-called "refractory" glaucoma patients—aka those whose eye condition hasn't responded to surgery and other treatments. The system works by inserting a special gel that's derived from collagen into the cornea through a pre-loaded injector. (FierceBiotech)

Device maker Medtronic falls 10% on earnings miss. Medtronic, the device giant which has won several major FDA clearances this year (including for an artificial pancreas to treat type 1 diabetes), saw its shares slump significantly in Tuesday morning trading as the company downgraded its profit outlook and reported a revenue miss. "We faced issues that affected our growth, including slower than expected revenue as we await new product introductions, particularly in [cardiovascular diseases] and diabetes," said Chief Executive Omar Ishrak in a statement.

Gates Foundation doles out grant to a blockchain firm with developing nation ambitions. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Austin-based Factom a grant to help the firm build out its blockchain technology for creating and accessing medical records—a technique that Factom believes will be especially useful in developing nations, helping doctors and patients access their data securely through smartphones. "Our goal with this new partnership is to demonstrate how global identity and record-keeping as a public utility is possible," said Factom CEO Peter Kirby in an interview with Bitcoin Magazine. "We hope to show how individuals can manage important, private records like medical records using very simple tools and a lot of backend cryptography. My belief is that the blockchain will be used more and more over time for these aims." (Healthcare IT News)

INDICATIONS

Mylan refuses to testify before Senate on the EpiPen. The beleaguered manufacturer of the life-saving epinephrine device has declined to testify in front of a Senate committee regarding its $465 million settlement with the Justice Department. Mylan was accused of over-billing the federal Medicaid health program by misclassifying the product. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley announced that Mylan will not be testifying before his committee in a hearing next week. (Fortune)

Sanofi and Novo Nordisk score major diabetes drug wins. The Food and Drug Administration has granted a pair of approvals to Sanofi and Novo Nordisk which will continue to pit the two diabetes industry leaders against each other. The newly approved therapies are Novo’s Xultophy and Sanofi’s Soliqua, which are combination treatments that contain both insulin and so-called "GLP-1" medicines to treat diabetes. While the approval is obviously good news for Sanofi, whose flagship diabetes franchise has been struggling in a crowded market, it comes at a steep price: the French pharma giant paid out $245 million for a priority review voucher which it had hoped would lead it to an earlier approval. (FiercePharma)

THE BIG PICTURE

PepsiCo is set to acquire probiotic drinks maker KeVita. My colleague John Kell has an exclusive scoop: Pepsi will be buying the sparkling probiotic drink maker KeVita in a deal that will be valued at around $200 million. As John notes, "functional" beverages are on the rise as consumers increasingly look for products that come with a dose of health benefits. And many of KeVita's drinks, aside from their gut-boosting probiotics, also contain no sugar. (Fortune)

Court rules that anorexic woman can refuse force feedings. A Superior Court judge has ruled that a woman who weighs 69 pounds can refuse to be force-fed, the Wall Street Journal reports. Morris County Judge Paul Armstrong said that he was swayed by the 29-year-old woman's testimony and request to be put into palliative care, calling her arguments "forthright, responsive, knowing, intelligent, voluntary, steadfast and credible." (Wall Street Journal)

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