Market Trends Series: Wireless Connectivity
Fresh back from the MDC Conference in Boston last week – great inaugural event and a perfect venue at Harvard Medical School. Thanks to Tim and the conference organizers — I personally heard many very positive comments from a number of attendees.
As the healthcare market continues to evolve, so do solutions related to medical device connectivity. I would like to invite you to join me in a dialog over the next several weeks – perhaps even on an ongoing basis – that will explore the trends that are affecting the market of medical device connectivity. The idea is to have an open and interactive discussion on where the technology is today, where it needs to go, and what is driving the market. Remember that this is just my viewpoint as I see things based on my experiences. Perhaps your experiences and perspective are similar or maybe they are completely different.
So, let’s begin. The first trend I’d like to talk about is wireless medical devices and the impact on connectivity. We all know that more and more medical devices are becoming wireless and therefore more mobile, for example more and more smart IV pumps (smart pumps) are being implemented every day. One key aspect of wireless technology is the fact that wireless enables devices to become untethered, and therefore a mobile use case is enabled. Wireless medical devices such as smart IV pumps and patient monitors add to the list of connectivity challenges because, from a pure connectivity perspective, they have basically eliminated one problem (the use of a serial data cable) and often create others. Once a medical device is no longer connected to something that facilitates data integration (like a bedside terminal server for example), then part of the connectivity and integration problem often shifts onto the manufacturer of the medical device.
Enterprise applications need access to real-time device data and alarm data. Without physical connectivity to individual medical devices at each patient’s bedside, the enterprise application must access the data via a gateway (a central server) connected to the hospital network with an HL7 outbound data interface.
Many of the large patient monitoring vendors did not experience any problems with this shift to wireless devices – mainly because they had already developed and understood device gateways and methods for handling the identification and mapping of patient data. Most of the leading patient monitoring vendors have been integrating their devices to EMR’s for at least the past 10 or more years. Monitoring systems have developed methods to deal with data identification (ensuring the right data gets to the right patient’s record) through some collaboration with the EMR vendors. But this is a whole new arena when you consider IV pumps and many of the other common bedside devices. Dealing with the identification of wireless device data from mobile and transient medical devices brings a whole new set of challenges – and this is both a technical problem as well as a clinical workflow issue.
There are quite a few device manufacturers that offer wireless in their devices. However, there are really only a few vendors that have done wireless right. And by this, I mean taking into consideration all of the requirements to operate on the hospital’s enterprise WLAN and requirements for how the wireless device help facilitate integration to enterprise systems such a EMR’s and alarm notification systems.
So what do you think? Are wireless devices causing you to think about medical device connectivity differently?