Survey: Lack of device connectivity leads to medical errors and $30B+ annual cost

17 March 2015

Stacy Lawrence / Fierce Medical Devices

The transcription of medical data from devices by nurses is a common source of medical errors that costs the U.S. healthcare system upward of $30 billion. That's according to a survey and other data assembled by a nonprofit medical research organization, the West Health Institute.

In a January survey of 526 nurses, half of them said they had witnessed a medical error resulting from the lack of medical device coordination in hospitals. These include everything from infusion pumps to ventilators, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs and electronic health records.

Despite much hype to the contrary, few hospitals have connected medical devices and even those that do haven't committed to linking them across the board. Only one-third of hospitals link medical devices directly to electronic health records--and at these institutions fewer than three medical devices actually connect, the report notes, citing data from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. But an average of about 6 to 10 medical devices are typical for an intensive care unit patient, for example.

If these devices were connected, 60% of the nurses said they thought medical errors could be significantly reduced. Now, nurses typically manually transcribe data from one medical device to another.

"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 nurse who participated in the survey. Almost half of the nurses said that an error is extremely or very likely to occur when data is being transferred by hand.

The West Institute estimates that connected devices could save more than $30 billion a year in reduced redundant tests, manual data entry and transcription errors.

For nurses, transcribing medical device data is one of the more tedious aspects of the job; three-quarters of them described the activity as burdensome and three-quarters said that it distracts them from providing patient care.

"Nurses enter the profession because they want to care for patients, not because they are interested in programming machines," Patricia Folcarelli, senior director of Patient Safety at the Silverman Institute for Health Care Quality and Safety at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in a statement

"As many as 10 devices may monitor or treat a single patient in an intensive care unit," Folcarelli added. "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."

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