Industry Watch

Ambient Clinical Analytics helps reduce medical errors

The software startup's AWARE technology neatly displays information needed by physicians performing acute care

By Beth Probst
Thursday, September 18, 2014

In emergency departments, operating rooms, and intensive care units, numerous difficulties threaten to overwhelm physicians and nurses. Badly presented information should not be among them.
That’s the premise of Rochester-based Ambient Clinical Analytics, a startup receiving investments from both venture capitalists and the Mayo Clinic. Founded in May 2013, its cloud-based software presents patient information bed-side and in real time to help physicians and nurses make better decisions — and fewer mistakes.
The company licenses technology from the Mayo Clinic, which, along with Rock Health and The Social + Capital Partnership, has provided it with more than $1 million in seed funding.
“A lot of money is being invested into healthcare IT right now,” notes CEO Al Berning, who has 20-plus years of experience in the sector. “This was a bonus for us since venture capitalists want to invest in this space if they find a product they like.” 
Among the company’s offerings is AWARE (Ambient Warning and Response Evaluation), which addresses the issue of information overload among physicians performing acute care. The software platform attracted $16 million from the Health Care Innovation Awards, presented by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation to fund organizations implementing the “most compelling new ideas to deliver better health, improved care, and lower costs.” 
The summary for Ambient’s award notes that 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries face preventable treatment errors due to “information overload among ICU providers.” 
Such errors affect not only patients, but also care providers, who must deal with the emotional and professional aftermath of making sometimes fatal mistakes.
The AWARE platform is a strong combination of big data and analytics. Using a series of algorithms, it pulls data from various electronic medical records, sorts it, and presents the information that’s most pertinent to a patient’s care.
Dr. John M. Litell, a physician in emergency and critical care medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, used the system and was quoted later on the experience by the Mayo Clinic: “The amount of data behind AWARE is vast, but unlike any other system I’ve used, AWARE shows me what I need to see, at the point of care, organized in the way I think. As a result, I can approach patients in a more standardized and organized fashion.”
Dr. Brian Pickering, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and consultant in the critical care division, has been heavily involved in developing and testing AWARE, drawing upon his extensive experience in evaluating systems of health care delivery. Interviewed by the Society of Critical Medicine, he noted that the standard electronic medical record displays an estimated average of 2,000 data pieces per patient per day, spread across multiple screens. “This is an overwhelming issue in the ICU — integrating data, managing information, and processes of care,” he noted. “If you can’t get to the answer you need in one or two steps, you are likely to be interrupted, increasing the possibility of errors.” 
His company isn’t alone in addressing the issue, but Berning believes AWARE stands out for several reasons, including its ability to smartly integrate data from many sources. That’s no easy feat, of course: Despite standardization efforts, the world of electronic medical records continuously changes, posing significant challenges. 
AWARE also excels, Berning says, because of its ability to prioritize information to better utilize physician time, which in turn helps to reduce medical errors.
Looking ahead, he anticipates getting approval of AWARE and marketing it to large hospitals before year’s end. In the long term, he hopes to make it scalable so that smaller hospitals can afford it, as well. (Ambient’s business model is supported by software license fees, SaaS, cloud, and system integration revenue.)
Another of the company’s products, the Mayo Clinic YES Board, pulls data from various sources to provide care teams with real-time situational awareness of their departments. On various screens, staff can get a multi-patient view, see the big picture on “patient flow,” and check the status of patients, facilities, and personnel. 
This can be particularly helpful in an emergency department, where traditionally it’s difficult to track real-time progress as situations change, and data on a patient comes in from multiple sources. 
By allowing more time to be spent on actual care (as opposed to information review), the company’s offerings promise to drive down costs, reduce mistakes, and improve results and efficiency. 
Ambient has another advantage up its sleeve: being based in Rochester and affiliated with the Mayo Clinic. 
“In addition to the strong medical partnerships in the city, there is also a great tech base that has helped us launch a successful company,” Berning says. “Rochester is a great place to launch this type of company.”