With current trends in health care and technology accelerating the move toward a connected healthcare enterprise, data has emerged as the new currency in the healthcare economy. At the center of this revolution are the medical devices harvesting data and the caregivers tasked with turning that data into actionable insights which improve the quality of care.

In this guest post, Phani Bidarahalli, general manager and global practice head, healthcare & life sciences engineering at a global information technology, consulting and outsourcing company, explains how the interconnectivity of these devices will play a growing role in patient monitoring, clinical decision support and care delivery in healthcare environments, as the reliance on data continues to expand. 

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Devices, including infusion pumps, ventilators, blood pressure monitors and other vital sign monitors, are critical for delivering quality care and the connectivity of these devices can greatly assist in reducing reporting and communication errors. Considering the increased prevalence of remote patient monitoring, device interoperability becomes even more important as remote caregivers are relying more on data and less on patient interactions and observations.

Considering the growing value of healthcare data, it’s concerning that the lack of interoperability between medical devices continues to raise concerns – and caretakers are taking notice. According to a survey of over 500 nurses in the US, commissioned  by Gary and Mary West Health Institute, half of all nurses surveyed have witnessed a medical error as the result of a lack of coordination between medical devices, and 60% believe medical errors could be significantly reduced if medical devices were connected and shared data with each other automatically.

Regulatory shifts toward value-based care, where payments are directly linked to healthcare outcomes, are also accelerating the need for improved interoperability standards within the industry. As per information available on HealthIT.gov, Meaningful Use Stage 2 compliance mandates the recording of blood pressure, lab tests, vital signs, weight and height in the electronic health record (EHR) for 80% of the patient population.

Factors impact connected care initiatives

Despite new regulatory trends and the growing recognition among care providers that connected devices play a vital role in healthcare outcomes, implementing a connected care strategy can be easier said than done. There are multiple factors healthcare IT executives must consider that reach far beyond simply deploying the newest, trendiest technologies and devices. From timestamp concerns to cybersecurity risks, there are many factors that can greatly impact the success of an organization’s connected care initiatives.

  1. Timestamp accuracy – As simple at it may seem, the most important question a caregiver can ask when providing and recording care is, “What is the correct time?” is it the time on the device? The time on the wall clock? Or the time on the doctor’s watch? Timestamping is a crucial aspect of collecting and measuring data, as caregivers working across devices need to know not only what type of care a patient received, but exactly when. Devices must recognize the Network Time Protocal (NTP) of outside devices and support time synchronization functionality to synchronize device time to server time. Healthcare IT executives should ensure all technology and devices in use throughout an organization are synchronized and NTP-compatible to eliminate potential errors regarding the timing of administrating care.
  2. Eliminating manual data entry – The less time a caregiver spends manually operating or entering data into a device the better, but some healthcare functions simply require user action on the device. To ensure data is being shared accurately without the element of human error, healthcare IT executives should deploy devices which are designed to perform data exchanges as independently as possible without the need for user intervention. Caregivers should also be thoroughly trained in the use of these devices and be well aware of the implications incorrect data entry can have on patient outcomes.
  3. Securing device transactions – Adoption of technology like Bluetooth can present some specific challenges regarding the pairing and un-pairing of devices and may lead to data loss and unsecure communication. Users cannot arbitrarily pair devices because they could potentially expose patients to information that’s not standardized. For example, if a nurse needs to send a prescription to a specific infusion device, the infusion device and the device sending the prescription need to work perfectly in synch so the source can be authenticated to prevent accidentally delivering a prescription to the wrong device. A responsible connected device strategy should adopt secure public and private key encryption mechanisms and include an audit process that frequently monitors any potential data loss.
  4. Managing Compliance Requirements – HIPAA compliance remains a key area of concern for healthcare IT executives. With more and more technology manufacturers embracing cloud-based data storage options, open source technologies and other commercial libraries available for data encryption, it’s important to understand how the use of those technologies will impact HIPAA compliance. Healthcare IT executives must understand the trail of data that could potentially be left on a device and should ensure cloud servers and open source packages are securing patient records and data in a way that meets HIPAA requirements.

As the move toward trends such as remote patient care and connected technologies continues to accelerate, so will the need for responsible healthcare data management solutions and strategies that emphasize accuracy, security, patient privacy and compliance.

Source: Considerations for a future of connected health care