"An airline doesn't build a plane by buying the different parts and then building it themselves," Pronovost said. "That is essentially what is happening in ICUs. We should be able to buy a hospital that works rather than cobbling one together."
"That would be great," Lopez said recently after hearing about the plan. "We spend all day running after alarms."
Hopkins is also working with Masimo Corp., a developer of noninvasive medical monitors, including a device that measures hemoglobin levels without having to draw blood. It instead uses acoustics to determine the levels by measuring the sound breath makes when traveling through the trachea.
Masimo chief medical officer Michael O'Reilly sees the problems of the ICU firsthand because he still practices medicine as an anesthesiologist in a hospital. He said the current system has the potential to put patients' lives in danger because there is too much room for human error.
During one recent surgery, a laser was being used to remove a tumor from a patient's airway. The patient also needed large amounts of oxygen administered during the procedure. But the oxygen machine and the laser couldn't operate at the same time without risking a fire. The doctors had to be in constant contact to make sure such a catastrophe didn't happen.
Masimo said better technology would make it impossible to turn on the laser unless the oxygen level was low. Or the oxygen would automatically shut down if the laser was used.
"We have a system that injures people one at a time slowly," O'Reilly said. "Data is scattered all over the place."
A coordinated system might prove to be a challenging sale to the dozens of manufacturers of medical devices who operate so independently now.
But because of Hopkins' reputation for top-notch standards, one health care expert said, people will pay attention.
"Their influence would be in the area of quality," said Joshua Nemzoff, a hospital consultant. "If Hopkins came up with an ICU that has better patient outcomes, they would certainly get the attention of a lot of people, based on their reputation."
Pronovost has created widespread medical change before. He led a national effort to curb blood infections associated with catheters by getting doctors to follow a basic checklist and changing the culture at hospitals. The system is now used in ICUs throughout the country.