This article was published by Pittsburgh Business TimesPaul J. Gough

Improving patient flow at hospitals and improving health and efficiency is exactly what TeleTracking Technologies Inc. does every day, so it's no surprise the Pittsburgh-based health technology company's data and analysis has been key during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.

This week it became even more invaluable, unveiling a dashboard system for its client hospitals that shows in real-time patient census, the number of beds available, confirmed numbers of COVID-19 patients, the number of patients who need ventilation and the availability of negative pressure and ICU rooms. It's all the types of data that hospitals need now more than ever as they manage what will likely be a surge of critically ill coronavirus patients needing intensive care and ventilators.

"With this, you're looking at how things stood five minutes ago," said Jeanne Iasella, chief solutions officer. "That's how fast things are changing."

TeleTracking has about 1,000 hospitals among its client base. In a normal time, the types of data and analysis it provides to hospitals is critical to help manage the flow so that the system's efficiency is flowing smoothly and patients are getting the care they need when they need it. Today, some of TeleTracking clients — including hospitals in New York — are in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis. Others, like hospitals in the Pittsburgh region, aren't seeing the same type of pressure on their hospitals. But they're all concerned about what may happen with what health care systems and hospitals call a surge: A flow of critically ill patients that strains the hospital and health system response.

At one hospital, in the southwestern part of the United States, it was all quiet in the morning and a surge and a cluster of critically ill COVID-19 patients needing coordinated care by the afternoon.

"We work with systems that are having this now, and we work with systems and hospitals that are not quite there yet, like Pittsburgh, who are getting ready, anticipating, but not seeing (conditions) like New York," Iasella said.

That's crucial as well because those hospitals and systems want to find ways to prevent or blunt the troubles that hospitals that are in the midst of a coronavirus surge are dealing with now.

"A lot of our health systems are trying to find out how to prevent that (surge)," Iasella said.

For the health systems that aren't filled up yet, having all the information in one dashboard is critical for preparation and scaling up in case the patient load gets as high as some estimates say. That includes how many intensive care beds there are, how many ventilators are attached, a real-time, up-to-date look at capacity. TeleTracking's system also helps hospital systems plan for capacity increases and plan for what might be needed in the coming weeks.

Hospitals need that information fast.

"For those systems that are in the hot spot, it is such a rapidly evolving situation," Iasella said. "The information from eight hours ago is not only irrelevant but it's actually not helpful. What's helpful is the real-time."

It's also possible to set up the TeleTracking system for a state- or other level of hospital systems that do not belong to the same health system. That could happen, although there is no solid information about that.

TeleTracking has about 400 employees and has been around for nearly 30 years, founded in Pittsburgh. Iasella said that every employee is passionately throwing themselves into the work and knowing they're making a difference.

In one way, responding to surges is nothing new to TeleTracking. It already has workflows and dashboards and portals that can be placed into action for local challenges like hurricanes or mass shootings. But, Iasella said, the scale of this crisis goes beyond the individual hospital or health system in a way that has never been faced before.

"It's the first large-scale crisis across the country," she said.

And TeleTracking, beyond providing this information in real time and other ways to help, are convening conference calls with two dozen health systems or more to allow the varying leaders discuss their challenges, share best practices and support each other.

"Listening to how they are managing through it is humbling," Iasella said.