A clinician using the integriti® vital signs monitor and a Stinger Levitator™ workstation to take patient vitals.
What began as a metal-working operation in a Murfreesboro garage is today Stinger Medical, which provides hospitals with work stations and technologies that roll to the patient bedside.
"Our first product in 1994 was a trailer," recalls the founder and CEO, Gary Coonan, who adds, "Opportunities come along all the time. The difference is you need to be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities."
Stinger's opportunity came along in 1996, when then-Columbia HCA in Nashville needed specifically designed, rolling, metal carts on which to place computers. "The first carts had a big cord reel for the network cable and a power cord to plug in everywhere they went," Coonan explains. That's certainly not the case anymore. Stinger has kept pace with the changing technology, from television-like computer monitors to flat screens to wireless networks.
Coonan says "a lot more hospitals got onboard" with the introduction of flat panels, and Stinger's client roster began to grow. In 2000, the company developed the first cart with a built-in power system. Today, Stinger provides hospitals and hospital chains across the country with mobile work stations that run the gamut, from "a piece of furniture, which is an assembly of metal and wheels, to a station with a power system, medication drawers, a computer, a printer, a barcode reader and our integriti® system. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it," he says.
The integriti is a Stinger product to monitor vital signs: non-invasive blood pressure, oral temperature, blood oxygen levels and pulse. With both adult and pediatric modes, the instrument has the capability to automatically download vital signs information into electronic medical records.
Stinger also buys computer components such as boards and hard drives "and then we build a chassis that is unique to our environment," Coonan explains. "The computer is built behind the monitor, and it's just one package so it mounts up on the cart without wires everywhere."
The Stinger computers feature screen dimming to provide privacy of the information displayed, thus adhering to HIPAA requirements. The mobile stations are also built to repel static electricity, which can cause problems with electronics.
Stinger also treats its work stations with a product dubbed RhinoGuard, which inhibits the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria, fungus and mold on contact. RhinoGuard is a silver-based compound added to Stinger's plastic and into the powder coating used to cover all metal surfaces. The technology is exclusive to Stinger and won't wash off over time.
In 2004, Stinger hired a national sales force, with representatives located in strategic cities throughout the country. "The most important thing is that it's allowed us to be in direct contact with our customers. So we get the feedback of what's happening and what they need," Coonan says.
When customers need a change to their custom product, the company is flexible, Coonan adds. "Everything we build is to order. No two hospitals, no two departments of a hospital, no two floors, no two areas on a floor want the same thing. They all have special needs, and opinions vary," he says.
Coonan says the future of his business lies in the fact that a visit to a patient's bedside should accomplish as much as possible. "It's not simply data collection and data retrieval and patient information … you're taking an action while you're there –– you're giving care. As long as you're taking that tool with you, should it not have everything that you need to give care while you're there? We would certainly like to see the market progress to that," he says.
Yet he acknowledges that it will take time for healthcare providers to embrace change. "It's just a matter of how fast facilities and the practitioners can adapt to the technology and modify their workflow to turn it into something that's a lot more mobile than it is now," he says. He adds that most hospitals use mobile computer devices to only 25 percent of their capacity, and believes the industry's first job is to help customers get the most out of their electronic capabilities "rather than adding more whiz bang."
"I don't think there's much argument that one day everything will be electronic. The problem is how fast are we going to get there? You can't step over the learning curve of facilities and employees. You can't leap frog anything," Coonan says. "You have to understand, really understand, what's being adopted and what's acceptable to introduce right now." For example, dispensing medication at bedside will someday be the conventional practice, but not until hospitals reconfigure their pharmacies and change workflows, he says.
Stinger Medical's 120 employees produce and sell about 12,000 work stations annually. Among the company's customers are HCA and Tenet, two giant networks that combined own more than 350 hospitals and outpatient surgery centers.