NightHawks of the Emergency Department

Nate Fletcher
Nate FletcherDecember 10th, 2021

When I was little, I remember my dad was often on call. We lived in a small town about 15 mins from Newport, RI where he and my grandfather practiced Radiology together. Back then, if his pager went off in the middle of the night and the person in question was sick enough, he would get into his car and drive to the hospital to process x-ray film (remember that stuff?). Sometimes he would return home, get in bed, and his pager would go off yet again. It wasn’t easy, but it was how things worked in those days. 

Time went by and CT and MRI became prolific, and eventually my dad had a computer workstation at home. Instead of driving to the hospital in response to an on-call page, he would go down to our basement and read film on his computer. Sometimes he’d read a lot of it, because as he described it at the time, “we are over testing”. There were a lot of nights where he was on call but could stay home – an upgrade (for sure) with a busy family. 

Closer to my dad’s retirement, something came along that really changed the game for him. It was called “NightHawks”. This was a company staffed by Radiologists in places like Sydney, Australia or Zurich, Switzerland with a 12+ hour time difference. This team would be on call during their regular business hours while my dad slept. This was on-call nirvana.

People rethought the business model, took a chance, and it made a big impact on my dad. That’s why I’m passionate about the work we’re doing here at Vital.

Moving healthcare forward

I’ve been working in Healthcare IT for almost 20 years. It is a wild and varied world. I’ve seen and experienced much over the years, including clear examples of how and where the healthcare system could use more innovators like those who developed NightHawks. I once saw a server closet located on a hospital rooftop (yes, the roof!). At a hospital in New York City, I saw a patient restrained to her bed (the hospital is now closed). 

Yet in sharp contrast, I’ve experienced more reasons to celebrate – including many healthcare innovators, dedicated clinicians and staff, and top-notch healthcare systems. Most recently (and personally), my son received magnificent care in the NICU at SCL Health, St. Joseph’s in Denver in Colorado. 

What makes these positive experiences – and many others – so profound? The people. We work with dedicated, strong, and resilient individuals. Healthcare is full of those who are trying to move the ball forward for their loved ones, neighbors, and complete strangers. The people are what really matter. We can build technology all day long, but if the people surrounding it aren’t there to push it forward, it’s useless. 

Innovating to make a big impact

At Vital, we have been lucky enough to partner with visionaries across healthcare. Whether it’s our strategy friends in Arizona at Dignity Health, PEX leaders in Louisiana at Ochsner, or our ED champions in Iowa at MercyOne – we are seeing countless examples of those willing to take risks to make things better for patients and providers. 

In some ways, the ED today reminds me of the early days when my dad would drive into the hospital. It’s working, but man, it is hard on the individuals delivering care. My hope for Vital is that we’re making life easier for both patients and clinicians. We are working on some pretty incredible provider tools at Vital. Tools to help people do their jobs, but have to keep track of less, to worry less, to have less stress. We are leveraging EHR data and AI to predict admissions, clinical anomalies, missed charges and more. We are building a platform that is mobile-first, because why would anyone want to be sitting at a desktop all day in the ED? We are guiding patients through the ED and answering their most common questions so providers have more time (and spend less time trying to answer questions they don’t know the answer to like “when am I going to get out of here?”) There’s a lot of work to do, but I am determined that Vital becomes the “NightHawks” of the ED. When we look back 10 years from now, we’ll see how we changed the game for patients and for the people helping them day in and day out. 

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