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Computer Analytics May Substantially Reduce Risk of Surgical Infections

By Peter Clarke, JD on September 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

Infections caused by surgical procedures are not uncommon and can be life-threatening. If only there were a way to cut (pardon the pun) the incidence of such infections ... But wait, Computerworld has just reported that the application of predictive analytics and machine learning techniques to real-time data from operating rooms at the University of Iowa Hospital had lowered the risk of surgical infections by a stunning 74 percent over a three-year period.

Given this success, the hospital has created Dash Analytics, a company devoted to commercializing this technology. Dr. John Cromwell, the CTO at Dash, and an associate chief medical officer at the University of Iowa Hospital, has stated the following: "We started work with the hypothesis that if we could predict which patients would get surgical infections we could change the wound management strategies at the time of surgery to reduce the risk of infection. Surgical infection in the US is the number one hospital infection and carries the most morbidity. It is also the most expensive type of of hospital infection to treat."

Dr. Cromwell has elaborated that various factors can contribute to the risk of surgical infection: "The patient might be malnourished, or morbidly obese, or they might be on medication that suppresses the immune system. The duration of the operation influences the risk, and whether you keep the patient warm throughout the operation makes a difference."

So, what does Dash do to address these issues? According to Dr. Cromwell: "We designed a real time tool that uses the medical record data plus the real time data from the operating room to provide some decision support to the surgeon at the time of the operations to change the wound management strategy." He added that surgeons essentially have two options that can be implement to lower the risk of infection. A wound can be left open, or a procedure called negative pressure wound therapy can be used to vacuum and seal a wound.

Dr. Cromwell noted that negative pressure wound therapy can reduce infections substantially if applied to the correct patients. However, it is quite expensive, so it must be used selectively and appropriately. By using analytic tools to decide which patients should get negative wound pressure therapy, Cromwell has seen a reduction in infections by 58 percent in two years and 74 percent in three years at the University of Iowa Hospital. He stated his belief that this result was much better than the use of antibiotics.

Hopefully, Dash is onto something. A major reduction in surgical infections could be a game-changer in the health field. Time will tell whether the approach taken by Dash will find broader application and success.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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