In late March of last year, Frank Cutitta was admitted to a Boston-area hospital with COVID-19. He wouldn’t walk out again until the Fourth of July, 100 days later.
“My name is Frank Cutitta, and I am very happy, literally, to be here,” Cutitta told HIMSS21 attendees on Thursday.
As the former HIMSS senior director of content analytics and the founder of HIMSS Media Lab, Cutitta, now the founder and CEO of HealthTech Decisions Lab, treated much of his time in the hospital as a longitudinal case study.
From his frustration with patient portal updates to his adulation of the noble shower chair, Cutitta observed which high-tech – and not-so-high-tech – tools he relied on throughout his battle with COVID-19.
This past spring, Cutitta said he’d felt a week of symptoms he’d written off as allergies before a friend loaned him a pulse oximeter.
Even when his oxygen saturation levels read at 82%, Cutitta wasn’t overly concerned. After all, 82% is more than a passing grade on an academic scale.
“Well, that’s not that far off from a B,” he remembered saying.
On the contrary, he was told: “You’re going to BE in the hospital very quickly.”
By the time his wife finished parking the car, Cutitta was sent to the intensive care unit. He was given Propofol and spent more than a month unconscious.
Even then, he said, technology played a role. In addition to the tools keeping him alive, his family made him playlists – heavy on Luciano Pavarotti and the Beach Boys – and set up an iPad to watch him.
After Cutitta regained consciousness, he still faced a long road to recovery.
What particularly struck him, he said, was the loneliness. He spent 23 hours a day by himself, with only the occasional, transactional interaction with a masked clinician to break up the isolation.
And when Cutitta finally told a doctor how he felt, the provider responded that he, too, was lonely: He was an oncologist who yearned to be able to hold his patients’ hands.
“I’m a lonely person being treated by lots of other lonely people,” Cutitta realized. “It’s like a lonely marathon.”
In addition to the emotional challenges, Cutitta experienced firsthand how health IT can present hiccups and headaches of its own.
For instance, he said, “electronic medical records are great – if people read them.” Because his record had so much information in it, his nurses didn’t initially realize he’d been approved to have ice chips, which he desperately wanted.
He also encountered barriers to interoperability in the most visceral way possible, when it came time to remove his feeding tube.
Unfortunately, the tube had been inserted at another hospital and his doctor didn’t have access to the users’ manual – requiring an ambulance ride and an ensuing story about the device’s removal through Cutitta’s throat that left many in the audience wincing.
“To the best of my knowledge, they’re still repairing the hole in the ceiling from when I jumped out of my bed,” Cutitta laughed. “I just have a slight idea, in a minimal way, of what it’s like having a baby.”
After Cutitta left the hospital, he took advantage of remote patient monitoring technologies like a palm-sized EKG monitor, video telehealth appointments and Apple Health’s pedometer function.
He also praised one of the lowest-tech devices he used: the shower chair, which allowed him to clean himself without getting fatigued.
“Those are the things I learned about how important the nexus of high-tech and low-tech really is,” he said.
An inside look at the innovation, education, technology, networking and key events at the HIMSS21 Global Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas.