Nurses Say Lack of Device Interoperability Contributes to Medical Errors

For years, healthcare technology professionals and patient safety organizations have decried the lack of medical device interoperability in hospitals. Now, another voice, nursing, is echoing the call for better interoperability, saying a lack of sufficient progress on this front contributes significantly to medical errors.

“Meaningful progress in reducing medical errors requires using technology to create an automated, connected, and coordinated healthcare system,” according to Missed Connections: A Nurses Survey on Interoperability and Improved Patient Care,  a report from the Gary and Mary West Health Institute. “And this is only possible when there is a seamless flow of information among all device involved in caring for a patient.”

Half of the nurses surveyed for the report said they had witnessed an error because of a lack of device coordination. Roughly half estimated that 25 percent of medical errors and adverse events might be prevented if devices could share information seamlessly. Medical errors have long been cited as a leading cause of preventable patient deaths in hospitals each year.

The lack of information-sharing between devices can affect how a nurse does his or her job. The survey found that nurses spend a lot of time programming and setting up devices, followed by data transcription. About 41 percent said they spend three or more hours per shift on these tasks, and that can take their focus away from patient care. Almost 70 percen agreed that bedside nurses need to pay close attention to patient needs without distraction to ensure better outcomes.

All of the programming and troubleshooting can take a toll on the nurses themselves. “Most patients are on more than one medical device, and nurses care for five to six patients per shift. The nurse has to manage the patient and machines, all while working with less support staff and more mandated overtime,” according to one anonymous nurse quoted in the report. Almost three-quarters of the nurses surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed that it is burdensome to coordinate the data collected by medical devices.

Patricia Folcarelli, senior director of patient safety at the Silverman Institute for Health Care Quality and Safety at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says in a release that nurses don’t enter the profession to program machines. A nurse “often spends a significant amount of time transcribing data by hand because the devices are not designed to share information,” she adds.

The survey, conducted online by Harris Poll between January 7 and 16, 2015 reflects the responses of 526 nurses, credentialed at RN or higher and with a bachelor’s of science degree or higher, who work full-time in a nonschool setting.

Source: Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)