Market Trends Series #2: Patient Safety

This is the second post as part of an ongoing series that discusses the market trends that are affecting the evolution of medical device connectivity (MDC) technology. I received some good comments from my previous post – please consider sharing your thoughts, ideas, and experiences.

The second trend I’d like to discuss is the shift towards patient safety as one of the key market drivers for connectivity. It is probably not news to anyone that patient safety has become one of the key drivers for many healthcare IT initiatives. But what is the relationship between patient safety and MDC? Ever since the often referenced IOM report, To Err is Human: Building A Safer Health System, hospitals and vendors alike have increased their focus on driving towards significant reductions in medical errors. The industry as a whole has made great strides, but still lots of work remains.

With device connectivity, my experience has been that for at least the past 15+ years, the key driver has been making the nurse more efficient by eliminating the manual transcription of device data into the patient’s chart. One of the related benefits is a more come complete and legible patient record. However, one could argue that the more legible patient record could be achieved if the vital signs from medical devices were simply typed into the charting application manually (something that many hospitals are actually doing today). So I believe that the nursing efficiency argument holds as the primary driver – but that is starting to be challenged by the focus on patient safety as it relates to connectivity.

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Barcoding and Patient Context

One of the most important areas of connectivity, and one that frequently does not receive the attention it deserves, is establishing and maintaining patient context. Historically, connected devices identified data by location – tagging data with a bed or even port number – rather than the actual patient name or ID. Because patients are frequently moved during an episode of care – not to mention ambulatory – data that is only tagged with a location presents risks of misidentification. In an effort to improve positive patient identification, data is increasingly tagged with a patient identifier.

Besides patient safety, patient context also greatly impacts medical device workflow. (Medical device connectivity is workflow automation through the integration of medical devices and information systems.) How a vendor implements patient context can have a big impact on usability and customer acceptance.

Patient context requirements can vary, based on the type of medical device in question. What is not variable is the requirement to reliably establish and maintain context. Mobile applications (like smart pumps or patient monitoring) where the device may go in and out of network coverage while constantly in use present special challenges. This compares to a fixed or portable medical device, like a dialysis machine or diagnostic ultrasound, with an episodic use case during which neither the device or patient is moved. Another variable is whether the application is life-critical. Continuous patient monitoring and many alarms (e.g., smart pumps and ventilators) are life-critical applications with a higher threshold of requirements. This contrasts with connectivity for documentation like with point of care testing or spot vital signs capture. In all cases though, patient context must be safe and reliable. The above issues just help define how many hoops you have to jump through to be safe and reliable.

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