One of the core requirements of Stage 1 of the meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) technology calls for recording and charting changes in vital signs for at least half of patients. One easy way to do this would be to integrate EHR systems with defibrillators, blood pressure monitors and other medical devices that, well, monitor changes in patients’ vital signs.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Only one-third of hospitals make use of an interface that integrates the EHR system with data from medical devices, suggested a recent white paper on the medical device landscape from HIMSS Analytics, the research subsidiary of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
As CMIO magazine points out in its analysis of the white paper, a key reason for this lack of integration is that most medical devices connect to the Internet via a wired LAN. As one can imagine, this limits the ability of medical devices to send real-time updates to an EHR system when, for example, a patient heads from the emergency room to the intensive care unit. Such issues can be remedied through hard-wired connections such as Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Flash drives that transfer data from the medical device to the EHR system, HIMSS Analytics suggested.
Wireless networks that cover an entire medical facility are an obvious, less cumbersome solution — but according to the white paper, only 8% of hospitals have such networks, which can be difficult and expensive to implement and maintain, especially with dozens of medical devices on them. On top of that, wireless networks present plenty of medical device security conundrums: Any security hole that can be exploited will be, and the fines for data breaches have risen dramatically since the passing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act.
Despite the risks, a secure wireless network presents the best option for linking medical devices and EHR systems. As smartphones and tablet PCs continue to proliferate in medical facilities, these networks will be essential for providing mobile access to all types of clinical and business applications. Plus, physicians and clinicians already carry enough medical and technical equipment. Add USB drives for medical devices to the mix, and it’s a recipe for a pocket full of kryptonite.