Nurses blame interoperability woes for medical errors

$30B could be saved each year from better device coordination
By Erin McCann
11:11 AM
Each year, a staggering 400,000 people are estimated to have died due to medical errors. What's more, each day there's also 10,000 serious complications resulting from medical mistakes. Part of the blame, nurses are saying, can be attributed to the lack of interoperability among medical devices. 
That's according to new data published by the non-partisan Gary and Mary West Health Institute, which sought input from nurses nationwide. The results are telling.
Some 60 percent of registered nurses said medical errors could significantly decrease if hospital medical devices were coordinated and interoperable. Even more marked was that half of them said they actually witnessed a medical mistake due to the lack of interoperability of these devices, which include infusion pumps, electronic medical records and pulse oximeters. 
When looking at the crisis from a cost perspective, West Health Institute officials estimate that a connected, fully interoperable health system could save a potential $30 billion each year by reducing transcription errors, manual data entry and redundant tests. 
"I have seen many instances where numbers were incorrectly transcribed or put in reverse or put in the wrong column when typed manually, which can cause errors," said one participating RN in the report. 
Indeed, some 46 percent of RN respondents said, when it comes to manual transcription from one device to another, an error is "extremely" or "very likely to occur." 
"As many as 10 devices may monitor or treat a single patient in an intensive care unit," said 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, in a press statement announcing the report.

"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," she added.

Other key survey findings:
  • 74 percent of these nurses agreed that it is burdensome to coordinate the data collected by medical devices
  • 93 percent agreed that medical devices should be able to seamlessly share data with one another automatically
Just last year, healthcare clinicians and researchers convened on Capitol Hill to put their best ideas forward on how to solve the medical error crisis that reportedly claims the lives of 400,000 each year, costing the nation a colossal $1 trillion annually. 
In terms of how to address this problem, the recommendations put forth by stakeholders were diverse – including boosting the number of registered nurses, supporting AHRQ, CDC and establishing incentives. There did, however, exist common agreement with one thing: information technology is falling short in many arenas. 
"Medicine today invests heavily in information technology," said Peter Pronovost, MD, senior vice president for Patient Safety and Quality and director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins. "Yet the promised improvement in patient safety and productivity frankly have not been realized."
Ashish Jha, MD, professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health, also at the hearing, agreed. The potential, he said, of electronic medical records and devices "is not going to be realized unless those tools are really focused on improving patient safety."
Want to get more stories like this one? Get daily news updates from Healthcare IT News.
Your subscription has been saved.
Something went wrong. Please try again.