In 2011, Marc Andreessen wrote a smart article for the Wall Street Journal titled “Why software is eating the world.”  In it, he focused on the struggles of computer hardware OEMs like HP and Dell in the post-PC reality of 2013.  He thought these firms had to change their strategy to match this reality.

After attending the Society for Technology in Anesthesia (STA) conference in Scotsdale a few weeks ago, it appears that the same thing could be said in anesthesia.

The STA conference is the premiere meeting for innovators in Anesthesia.  Most of the anesthesia gas machine providers came with their latest offerings.  Masimo had a huge presence with some of their latest pulse-ox devices, including a low-cost consumer offering that attached to iOS devices.  There were quite a few start-ups sharing their new devices, including a new hypodermic needle that would automatically record doses into the AIMS database.

In contrast, the sessions were primarily focused on software-only innovations.  Decision support software. Big Data analytics. AIMS.

The team from Vanderbilt showed a simple glucose alert that reduced surgical site infections over 50%.  This didn’t require any new hardware, just the recognition that existing software interfaces didn’t provide appropriate mechanisms for highlighting problems like hyperglycemia.  AlertWatch builds on this concept and displays glucose alerts, lab values, and related risk factors, like diabetes.

A presentation by Dr. Pinsky showed that you could take five physiologic monitoring signals and predict adverse events hours before they occurred, by analyzing them as a whole, instead of individually…even when the individual signals were all well within range.

I got to demo AlertWatch during an industry session when an MD pointed to the firm as a good example of how to integrate additional pieces of data to make monitors more useful.  The software was demoed again by Mike O’Reilly, the CMO of Masimo, on Friday, as a good example of innovations in monitoring.

Finally, Sachin Kheterpal, MD, from the University of Michigan, gave a detailed update on MPOG, a massive multi-hospital database that allows any hospital to share their anonymized patient health information, and in return, get access to the combined PHI, so they could analyze outcomes data for their clinical research.

The unspoken theme was that the existing hardware equipment would continue to play an important role in delivery quality patient care, but that integrated software solutions might help address many of the persistent challenges in perioperative care.

I look forward to next year’s STA Conference in Orlando.