News Feature | March 16, 2015

Lack Of Medical Device Interoperability Impacting Patient Care, Nurses Say

By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq

Nurse Informaticists

Registered nurses in the United States are growing frustrated over the lack of interoperability between medical devices, according to a recent survey. They believe that the failure of devices to share data contributes to clinical errors and reduces valuable hands-on time and attention needed by patients.

The survey revealed that one in two (50%) nurses claimed to have witnessed a medical error due to a lack of communication between devices used in the hospital setting. Moreover, almost all (93%) of nurses believe that medical devices such as monitors and diagnostic devices should be able to seamlessly share data automatically and seamlessly using open communication standards. If devices are connected, three in five (60%) of nurses believe that potentially deadly errors could be significantly reduced.

The survey, titled Missed Connections: A Nurses Survey on Interoperability and Improved Patient Care, asked 526 nurses across the U.S. who work full-time in a non-school setting. The poll was commissioned by Gary & Mary West Health Institute and conducted by Harris Poll.

According to West Health, preventable medical errors claim some 400,000 lives in the U.S. alone each year and cost the nation more than $1 trillion dollars annually. Their survey of nurses suggests that a good number of medical errors could be blamed on devices that fail to communicate with each other.

In the survey, three in four (74%) nurses said that while devices such as infusion pumps, ventilators, and electronic health records are an integral part of patient care, using them can be burdensome because they are not designed to share data. Two out of three (69%) said that manually transcribing data to bridge the interoperability gap is taking precious time away from direct patient care.

“Nurses enter the profession because they want to care for patients, not because they are interested in programming machines,” Patricia H. Folcarelli, RN, senior director of patient safety at the Silverman Institute for Health Care Quality and Safety at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in a press release. “As many as 10 devices may monitor or treat a single patient in an intensive care unit. The nurse not only has to program and monitor the machines, he or she often spends a significant amount of time transcribing data by hand because the devices are not designed to share information.”

According to West Health, getting devices to share data could significantly improve patient safety and clinical outcomes. It believes a system of interconnected medical devices could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $30 billion each year by reducing redundant testing, manual data entry, and transcription errors.

The survey revealed that 90% of U.S. hospitals use at least six medical devices that could be integrated with EHRs. However, only one in three hospitals actually does so. In addition, even hospitals with interoperability initiatives only integrate no more than three devices.

West Health called for the adoption of widespread, open standards-based interoperability between medical devices within the existing framework made by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

“It is essential that we specifically include medical devices in the conversation,” West Health stated in the survey. “Without specifically including the wealth of information currently trapped in the individual silos of the separate medical devices, meaningful interoperability will be frustrated.”

The ONC’s draft Interoperability Roadmap was recently criticized by a group of senators for being heavy on generalities but lacking “nitty gritty technology specifics that vendors and providers need when developing IT products,” according to a Health Data Management article.