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Empowering Patients and Keeping Them Safe

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Empowering Patients and Keeping Them Safe

Pat Mastors

When her father was in the hospital, TV news and medical reporter Pat Mastors learned that a TV remote control carries more bacteria than anything else in a hospital room. But, she discovered after an exhaustive online search, no products existed to cover a remote control that’s tethered in place.

Mastors was also struck by the impersonal nature of the hospital. “Being hospitalized — even while getting the best of care — can erode a person’s dignity, autonomy and spirit,” she says.

When Mastors’ father died of a hospital-acquired infection in February 2006, Mastors was galvanized into action. She patented a remote control cover and developed the Infection Defense Kit, a box filled with information about hospital-acquired infections, hand sanitizer and the remote control cover. The kit achieved modest sales in 16 states and Canada, but Mastors soon realized that hospitals would never embrace the product. “They don’t really want us to know infections are so prevalent,” Mastors says now.

Mastors took another tack. “It’s not about product,” she realized. “It’s about human interaction.” Says Mastors, “There’s no place to put anything. I go to visit people in the hospital, and the bed tray is across the room.” It’s also ludicrously inadequate to hold all the things an individual needs in the hospital.

So Mastors went back to the drawing board and invented the Patient Pod. It attaches to a bedrail, walker or wheelchair and travels with you. It still contains medical information, hand sanitizer and a remote control cover, but it’s far more than that. It has pockets for personal items such as a cell phone and glasses, a place for a treasured photo and a memo pad to let caregivers know your name and other important information, such as a list of the medications a patient takes. Mastors says hearing aids and dentures often get lost in a hospital room — the Patient Pod keeps them safe.

“It’s like taking a friend to the hospital with you, in a place where nothing you touch is yours.” Things tucked into a Patient Pod “connect you to the life you have outside the hospital,” Mastors says.

The Patient Pod in action

What compelled Mastors to take the plunge? Says she, “My kids are grown. I had saved some money. I had the bandwidth.” She needed all of that. She started out with a Velco-and-craft foam prototype, and enough money to start something and see where it would go. Fuzion Design not only transformed her prototype into the finalized Patient Pod; it also partnered with Mastors. “Fuzion believed in the product and in me — for which I’m eternally grateful,” Mastors says. “Without their partnership, there would be no Patient Pod.” Adds Mastors, “I wouldn’t want would-be entrepreneurs to think anyone can do this alone.”

It was an expensive process, Mastors acknowledges. “Tooling anything is very costly, and you have to amortize the cost into the price you charge per unit.” She outsourced the bulk of the manufacturing to China, paying a consultant to assure quality control. Mastors insisted, however, that anything that touched the human body be made in the United States. So, when the product arrives in the U.S., a fulfillment house adds the sanitizer to the Patient Pods.

Mastors is passionate about the product — and about teaching people to be wary of hospital infections. “Infection kills 100,000 people a year,” Mastors says. “That’s as many deaths as from AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.” The price tag — an estimated $30.5 billion annually — works out to an average cost of $15,000 per infection, Mastors adds. That’s why she lets hospitals try out the Patient Pod at a price that barely covers her costs. She also wants to get the device into patients’ hands. “I’m actively looking for distribution partners and other alliances,” she says. The pods are available online and can even be shipped directly to a hospital or nursing home.

Mastors’ advice for anyone with an invention in mind:

  1. Be careful about choosing the people and the partners you want on your team. You want to hold out for great people, she says. “They’ll sustain you when things are tough.”
  2. Creating and launching a product is all-consuming, Mastors warns. You don’t want to engage in it unless you’re serious. “My husband finally sold his insurance business and we finally were at the point where we could travel — and I can’t get away.”
  3. Do your research — talk to potential end users. Make sure there’s a need for it — then get a patent.
  4. Make sure you have a prototype. “It allows you to get input from stakeholders to move to the next step.”

Creating and launching the Patient Pod has been a learning experience, and all of it has value, Mastors says. “When I started out, I could never have imagined the process. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You have to believe that what you’re doing matters.”

Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    As a young person whose only direct experience of the hospital has been an isolated visit here and there, I found it nothing short of shocking to unearth the dirty facts about hospitals and their infection rates. Many people assume when they enter a hospital that the worst part is over – that they have made it into a safe, sterile healing-vacuum where they will be cured by the deft hand of Dr. House or someone like him. As the evidence shows, this is simply not the case.

    While I don’t wish to deride the noble work being done by our real-life caregivers, the reality is that it’s just too temping as patients to let a white coat intimidate us into deferential silence. Sky-high infection rates are demonstrating that it is not enough to surrender our medical fates to those who hold our charts and take our temperatures. Patients have to take responsibility for their care, educate themselves, ask questions, and (respectfully) demand to be included in the healing process. Good health care is a collaboration. Pat’s innovative approach is providing patients with the tools they need to participate meaningfully with their caregivers. Pretty much, SHE is cool.

  2. Steve Powell says:

    We recently had a prospective client hospital share with us that their #1 problem with low patient satisfaction was the loss of patient’s personal items (eye glasses, dentures, books, etc.) during their hospital stay. We think the Patient Pod could be a solution. So, it’s not just a patient safety tool but also a patient satisfaction solution. Finally, we think staff will appreciate not getting called to a patient’s room for non-essential hunting and fetching tasks for personal items so they can spend more time providing essential patient care. Kudos Pat and team!

  3. Pat Mastors says:

    Eve, thank you for this wonderful piece on the creation of the Patient Pod! We can’t have enough awareness of how important it is to be proactive as hospital patients. The environment in these facilities is just too complex, the “bugs” that make us sick are getting stronger every day, caregivers are busier than ever, and even the best of them can’t attain perfection in ensuring no harm will come to us. The risk of infection is around 1 in 15, and studies show one in 3 patients will suffer some kind of medical error while hospitalized. There is no “re-do” of a hospitalization; what I’m passionate about is engaging patients to help ensure we “get it right” the first time. We’ve got to use our eyes, ears and brains, and contribute!

    Vigilance is key — before and during your stay. If you must have surgery, ask about the infection rate for that procedure (and how many of them that surgeon has done. You should also understand which part of the surgery may be performed by a less-experienced associate). Do advance online research about your hospital at http://hospitalcompare.hhs.gov and bring an advocate to the hospital with you (24/7, if they’ll do it). Bring a notepad, pen and hand sanitizer (and use it often), and write everything down (medications, doses, names of people caring for you, etc.) If you’ll be in the hospital for a while, ask about the chain of command early on, before there are problems, so you’ll have the info in case something comes up. Make sure the doctor leaves an order for pain and sleeping meds if needed before s/he leaves for the night. A download of six essential tips is available on our website, and there are links to other organizations that inform and educate here: http://www.thepatientpod.com/helpful-links.html. Last, if it’s ever in your life important to be nice to the staff, it’s while you’re in the hospital. They’re busy and stressed, too. If you can help a hospitalized loved one by straightening the bed or fetching water, it frees the staff for higher-level tasks. You’ll find them appreciative, and when you really do need them, they’ll likely be more responsive.

    All of this advice was hard-won by fellow patient advocates who’ve lived through tremendous personal loss when things fell through the cracks. None of us wants this to happen to others.

    There are literally hundreds of organizations in this country — within the medical profession, government and the patient advocate community — working to improve patient safety, patient engagement and patient awareness. Yet, as harm in hospitals continues, obviously we’re not doing a good enough job of fixing things. So, apologies for being so long-winded … but if even one person reads this and it makes a difference, it’s worth it.

  4. Lisa says:

    Wow! Great solution! Congrats Pat!

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