Author: William Hyman

Lessons from a Recent Recall

A recent Class I recall (not pictured) of a medical monitor with a hospital network connected central station stimulates some generalities about software, "fixes", and connectivity. (Class I recalls are defined by the FDA as  a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.) The use of the product in question was given as: a networked solution system used to monitor a patient’s vital signs and therapy, control alarms, review Web-based diagnostic images, and access patient records. The number of monitored vital signs can be increased or decreased based on the patient’s needs Curiously only one customer was identified as having received the product, or at least this particular version of the product. While the manufacturer and product in question is a matter of public record, and available at the link, I chose not to include it here because my objective is not to repeat the recall information, but to suggest the reasons for the recall, an associated labeling issue, and offer some general lessons. The reason given for the recall had two seemingly separate parts. The first is that "The weight-based drug dosage calculation may indicate incorrect recommended values, including a drug dosage up to ten times the indicated dosage". This sounds like a software problem yet the fix was not to "upgrade"...

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The IOM on EHRs

The   issue of the EHR relative to safety and effectiveness has again made the news with the November 7, 2011 pre-publication (and downloadable) release of an Institute of Medicine report on EHR safety, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This report expands the discussion beyond the EHR (used henceforth for both EHR and EMR) to include other related electronic information tools collectively called health IT. Health IT Risks The potential for health IT to improve both the quality and efficiency of medical care has been much noted to include more complete and timely records, ready exchange of information between providers, clinical decision support, and in turn a reduction in errors associated with the quality and availability of patient information. Efficiencies may arise from electronic capture of data which would eliminate manual entry, and time savings in accessing and reviewing patient information, and perhaps in passing information to third party payers. Additional public health value might accrue from the enhanced searchability of electronic records with respects to trends, treatments and outcomes. These benefits assume well designed, user friendly, compatible systems not withstanding that the U.S. model is to allow for numerous independent products that may or may not be able to exchange information nor display it in a consistent manner. Not surprisingly the report notes that the IT imperative will likely not be fruitful without associated attention to the people...

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Wi-Fi Capacity and New Devices

A recent NY Times article reported that hotel Wi-Fi capacity was again being challenged, this time by iPads and other tablets, or more specifically, tablet users.  The Times notes that these users may have a smart phone and laptop going at the same time they are sucking up streaming video. The high bandwidth demand of these devices, or more specifically, their uses,  is said to be reducing download speeds back to the good old days of dial-up connections. A likely solution will be a tiered charge structure, similar to the newest cellular data plans, with the result that you can waste bandwidth if you don't care what it costs.  A more general report on current and future wireless demand versus capacity has been produced by the Global Information Industry Center at the University of California San Diego. A less foreboding report on medical uses of Wi-Fi has been produced by the Wi-Fi alliance. Smart phones have a prior history of  overwhelming cell phone networks, such that in dense environments someone can't make a phone call because too many other people are watching reality show reruns and bad movies. Now some cellular devices have been looking at switching to Wi-Fi when it is available, as explained here. This leads to the conflict ridden situation of cellular wanting to use Wi-Fi to solve its capacity problems at the same time that Wi-Fi is being over loaded by...

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Hacked Insulin Pump

The fact that connectivity, and perhaps wireless connectivity in particular, allows for hacking for mischief, theft, politics, social protest and other forms and varying degrees of evil should surely come as no surprise. In turn, that a wireless medical device might be hackable should be somewhere on the mind of developers, users, and regulators. Thus the report from the recent Black Hat conference that someone hacked an insulin infusion pump (not pictured above), and in so doing was then able to alter its settings, should also not be particularly shocking, but should serve as yet another reminder, that security associated...

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FDA Addresses Mobile Medical Apps

As medical applications for mobile devices have proliferated,  regulatory questions have proliferated nearly as fast, at least in some quarters. The key questions are what kinds of apps are medical devices, and among those, which will the FDA focus on for regulatory action.  To date these apps range from home use  adviser's, guides and "toys", which may or may not have real health care implications, to serious medical devices which have clear health care functions, despite in at least some cases, pretending they do not really, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the FDA. On July 19, 2011 the FDA announced its proposed official action in this regard, including defining "mobile medical applications"  that are the subject of this action. (I will use the acronym MMA, although the FDA did not.) . This includes a new FDA web page for mobile apps (here), with links to a new Draft Guidance, information for consumers, and a press release. This action by the FDA has a parallel to the recent final rule on Medical Device Data Systems (MDDS), discussed by Tim here, which also addressed what is it, what is it not, and how that which is will be regulated. The Draft Guidance, dated July 21, 2011, defines an MMA as a "software application that can be executed (run) on a mobile platform, or a web-based software application that is tailored to a mobile platform but is executed...

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Storms From the Cloud

Given the analogy between actual clouds and computer clouds, it now seems appropriate to extend the concept to storms that those clouds may bring. This was illustrated recently (April 21, 2011) when Amazon had a cloud outage (a mixed metaphor no doubt) in their Amazon Web Services business. This situation was covered by the NY Times (here), and the professional computer press (here) among others. As a result of Amazon's problems some Web sites were reported to be down for as long as 11 hours, although actual loss of previously stored information has seemingly not been part of the problem--this time. However there is a related question for any new data that was or should have been generated during the outage. Where is it, and will the gap be properly filled in retroactively? The Amazon postmortem explanation has to be  what will be a classic, if it is not already a classic. In fact I can picture a pull down menu of explanations where this would have to be one of the choices. The explanation in short: a configuration error was made during a network upgrade. A far more detailed explanation was posted by Amazon here. From a Web page perspective an interesting aspect of the posted explanation is that while it is clearly on the Web site, it is not easily found, if it all, by starting...

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