The critical condition of medical device connectivity

In order to deliver high-quality care and meet regulatory mandates, hospitals must collect increasingly detailed clinical data from inpatients, while reducing staff costs. Obtaining the additional data required to manage and coordinate care inside and outside the hospital, without spending a fortune on staff, requires the ability to automatically retrieve information from medical devices.

In order to deliver high-quality care and meet regulatory mandates, hospitals must collect increasingly detailed clinical data from inpatients, while reducing staff costs. Obtaining the additional data required to manage and coordinate care inside and outside the hospital, without spending a fortune on staff, requires the ability to automatically retrieve information from medical devices.

These devices come in many different forms and levels of complexity, from tongue depressors to artificial hearts. The number of medical devices that produce electronic data is growing as sensors are added to devices that were formerly only mechanical in nature, such as the newly-developed e-Knee prosthesis.

This makes connected Medical Devices (CMD) invaluable to the medical industry. Each CMD saves from 4 to 36 minutes of nursing time and prevents up to 24 data errors daily. They can also save over 100 hours of nursing time per day. By stopping over 800 data collection errors each day, hospitals can offer greater efficiency and improved patient safety.

But how can hospitals move easily to this type of environment, and what role does the product manufacturer play in making it happen?

Medical Device Market Summary (tables below)

Most electronic medical devices are found in hospitals. Hospitals today use a vast number of common devices (Fig.1[1]), with IV pumps, physiologic monitors and vital signs monitors, making up 85% of the total. Hospitals also use dozens of other less common devices.

However, very few of these devices are currently connected to a hospital network. As indicated in Figure 2[1], below, the number of connected medical devices in hospitals could easily grow by a factor of ten.

Reliable statistics are not available for the use of electronic medical devices outside hospitals, but their number is expected to grow even more dramatically. The need for more accurate, timely and efficiently collected data will increase the use of CMDs in nursing homes, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities. However, the greatest growth is expected to be in patients’ homes and other locations outside of formal care environments, because potential improvements in data collection efficiency, cost and timeliness are greater outside of healthcare facilities (Fig 3[1]).

Promoting Device Connectivity

While device connections can be used to remotely monitor, control and configure devices, it is their patient monitoring function that adds the greatest value. Patient physiology data; drug administration data including dose, timing, rate, etc.; ventilator therapy data; and many other key pieces of information can be recorded to help medics provide optimal care to patients.

When these devices are automatically connected to an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) the completeness, timeliness and accuracy of the data that becomes available is much greater than what could be manually charted by nurses. What is more, the potential quality and safety of care improves, while the time and cost required to collect and chart the data is greatly reduced.

In short, the best practice for preventing hospital readmissions includes the use of connected devices in care facilities and patients’ homes. By making use of remote device data, patients can be kept in the comfort of their own homes, and therefore avoid unnecessary hospital care.

Meeting the Challenges

In spite of the substantial benefits of CMDs there is a great deal of frustration among hospitals and medical device vendors over the technical and operational challenges of connecting their devices.

The primary reason for increased interest in CMDs in hospitals is the need to incorporate device data into EMRs. This helps to create a more complete and accurate picture of patients’ conditions and enhances clinical decision support and analytics capabilities, improving care processes and patient outcomes. Most hospitals have dealt with this issue one device at a time, since each device vendor has their own proprietary data format. Given the increasing data volumes and the growing number of networkable devices, this is becoming more difficult.

Another factor in achieving a fully networked medical environment is security. Cisco (San Jose, Calif., USA) is the dominant infrastructure provider in hospitals and is known for providing very secure wireless access points. It’s important that device manufacturers support a hospital’s preferred security protocol (likely LEAP or EAP) to avoid costly ‘work-arounds’. In many cases, work-arounds are not feasible and the hospital will instead select another, compliant device vendor.

Realizing the Benefits

While timely, inexpensive, accurate data capture enhances a hospital’s competitive advantage, networking medical devices requires real expertise.

Device manufacturers must balance the need for stable product designs that can last many years to earn back the high costs of device development, with the rapid evolution of technical capabilities and standards. These manufacturers must also help translate device data into a format that can be read and understood by EMRs, and support industry standard wireless networking security protocols, dual band wireless communications, and multiple interfaces to help hospital customers realise the potential benefits of device connectivity.

The technical challenges to networking medical devices are far from insurmountable. Device networking experts have identified optimal solutions that address each of these provider concerns. However, device manufacturers who are not experienced in providing wireless network connectivity and implementing connected devices in a complex hospital environment should seek expert partners to avoid compromising patient health and customer relationships.


[1] Black Box Estimates

[1] Medical Devices Landscape: Current and Future Adoption, Integration with EMRs, and Connectivity, HIMSS Analytics, 2010.

[1] Medical Devices Landscape: Current and Future Adoption, Integration with EMRs, and Connectivity, HIMSS Analytics, 2010.