Engineers Develop Highly Customized Dashboards to Modernize Clinical Workflows


Embedded in the intensive care unit for more than a year, a Northwestern Medicine team collaborated with clinicians to create more efficient workflows through innovative, data-driven solutions powered by custom software.


From science labs to board rooms, innovation in healthcare is cultivated in many places. But at Northwestern Medicine, a team of engineers set out to innovate from the environment in which front-line healthcare providers work every day: the intensive care unit (ICU). By embedding themselves in the unit’s day-to-day operations as observers at the nurses’ workstation, the engineers were able to closely investigate the challenges facing ICU clinicians. Over the course of a year, the partnership and collaboration helped modernize workflows through data-driven solutions that will have direct, lasting impacts on patient care.

Syncing Data

Each day, clinicians spend a significant amount of time using various computer systems to input, audit, copy and track data that is essential to hospital operations and patient care. As the team studied this time-consuming process, they realized clinicians needed a solution that would give them a comprehensive view of the data without requiring them to switch between multiple applications.
Combining more than a dozen screens from the Epic electronic health record and other systems, scientists wrote custom software to connect the data sources into actionable dashboards. Each dashboard, created with clinician and patient needs in mind, uses custom software and algorithms to consolidate multiple data reports into a 360-degree visualization that allows clinicians to view key performance indicators in the most functional way. 

Tracking Medication Administration

One dashboard created by the Northwestern Medicine team involves tracking medication more efficiently. Through conversations with and feedback from ICU clinicians and pharmacists, the team came up with a solution for managing unreconciled medications — medications that are dispensed but not recorded as administered or returned. Ideally, each dose is accurately and consistently dispensed, scanned, charted and charged upon administration. However, because the medication pathway involves myriad variables, such as locations, systems, routes, users and charting methods, clinicians and pharmacists aren’t always able to close the loop if a dose isn’t scanned or charted correctly.
Using the medication dashboard, clinicians can search by unit, user, patient or medication to identify which input is contributing to the lowest level of reconciliation. From there, they can determine and resolve the root of the problem, such as a scanner malfunction, bar code issue, user error, or frequent changes in care plans or medication brands. Understanding the complete pathway of each dose is a critical component to minimizing adverse drug events by ensuring each patient gets the right dose at the right time, improving inventory tracking and reducing costs associated with unreconciled medication.

Developing for the Future

Now the team of engineers is working to create other dashboards that can help clinicians effectively visualize the massive amount of information required to care for patients. The team is also looking at how artificial intelligence can be used to sort through data and create actionable insights. Innovating from within the walls of the ICU has set a foundation for collaboration that can transform problem-solving in healthcare at Northwestern Medicine and beyond.