An app to prevent deadly medical errors: Harvard iLab’s Seratis

Seratis co-founder Divya Dhar and her company's app for hospital staff members (courtesy images)
Seratis co-founder Divya Dhar and her company's app for hospital staff members (courtesy images)

Could a mobile app save thousands of lives a year? Seratis, a startup working out of the Harvard Innovation Lab and founded by a medical doctor, thinks so.

Co-founder Divya Dhar had the idea for Seratis while working as a physician and seeing the results of poor communication among staff members.

“For numerous patients, I felt like their care was compromised,” Dhar said. “It was hard to know who else was looking after a patient. I knew there was a nurse, but I didn’t know who that nurse was. That information was not readily available.”

That’s because the dominant technology for staff communication about patients barely counts as technology: The pager, for sending messages, and the white board, for listing who is caring for which patient.

Dhar, who has just finished a dual degree at the Harvard Kennedy School (master’s in public administration) and the Wharton Business School (MBA), launched Seratis in April 2013 with co-founder Lane Rettig.

The company has developed a mobile app to replace both the pager and the white board.

The first component is messaging that allows staff to securely send HIPAA-compliant messages to each other about patients.

The second is a list of everyone who is part of a patient’s care team (including social workers, case managers, and others who usually don’t get listed on the white board).

Along with messaging specific people, staff can also use the app to send a message to an entire group — for instance, sending message to the next shift to let them know the status of patients.

Each year anywhere from 100,000 to nearly a half million patients die in US hospitals due to preventable medical errors, and Dhar said it’s believed that many of those deaths are due to miscommunication among staff.

Alongside saving lives, hospital staff also will just waste less time by using an app of this kind, by having an easier time getting information and getting ahold of other staff members, she said.

Seratis has been running a pilot of the app at a Cornerstone Healthcare Group facility in Texas and is now talking to several Boston hospitals about piloting the technology here, Dhar said.

The startup has also gotten validation in the form of winning the HATCH Pitch competition at SXSW in March and $850,000 from Verizon’s “Powerful Answers Award” in January.

Previously based in Philadelphia, Seratis expects to work out of the Boston area for at least this summer, and after that will likely locate wherever its first customers are, Dhar said.

Health care professionals can also pilot the technology for free for now, and patients are also encouraged to get in touch about adding their doctors, nurses, and pharmacists onto the network.

Some other apps working to improve healthcare:

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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