HOOKED UP Hospitals support growth in medical device connectivity, electronic health records

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In the not-so-distant future, doctors will be able to monitor their patients’ medical information, such as an EKG report with images, without leaving their offices or even their cars.

“We are about 12 to 18 months away from getting information sent to us this way,” via a pending software upgrade,” said Jorge Scheirer M.D., vice president and chief medical information officer at Reading Hospital and Medical Center in West Reading.

It has been about a year since Reading Hospital invested $150 million to install the Reading HealthConnect Electronic Health Record system.

According to Jacob McKnight, vice president and chief information officer at Reading Hospital, EKG images are accessed through the EHR system, but soon doctors will be able to view the EKG on their mobile device, such as their iPads. In the past, EKGs were printed on paper and placed in a medical file.

The medical community is indeed seeing a breakthrough with medical device connectivity and linking medical devices to electronic health records. It is a subject on the minds of many doctors.

A recent report by Transparency Market Research lends credence to growth in the market. The study looked at medical device connectivity through 2019 and found that there is an anticipated 38 percent compound growth rate. In 2012, the market for medical device connection was worth $3.5 billion, and by 2019 it is expected to reach $33.5 billion.

At Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Lori Yackanicz, administrator of clinical information, said the hospital implemented medical device connection in 2004 and that technology has evolved for the better over the last decade.

In the past, medical staff read the data from a patient’s medical chart. Now, medical devices are connected to the EHR, which improves patient safety by reducing transmission errors and making information simultaneously available to multiple medical providers.

“Medical device connectivity is currently a hot topic in the health care industry,” Yackanicz said. “In the next few years, LVHN will be expanding to include devices like portable dialysis units, medication pumps and specialized MRI monitoring systems. All these devices will be directly integrated into our primary electronic health record.”

She said medical device connectivity has saved the LVHN nursing staff 15 minutes per shift, which she said adds up to many hours a day that can now be spent on patient care instead of on handwriting information.

According to Yackanicz, future medical devices will have a two-way communication and can do more than just send out to the EHR.

“The next step is to allow communication with the devices for configuration or troubleshooting, further improving patient care at LVHN,” the administrator said.

Michael Levey, a public relations director at Olympus Corporation of the Americas in Center Valley, said the medical device manufacturer has many products equipped to deliver advanced technology to medical providers worldwide.

Levey said Olympus offers a host of products geared to support medical device connectivity.

He said examples include EndoWorks 7 Endoscopy Information Management Solution and DICOM. Both products enable health care providers to share information seamlessly with other medical systems.

“Creating a universal remote type set-up is also something that medical device manufacturers are doing. … Equipment is able to communicate with each other at the touch of a button,” Levey said.

He said that in the future it will become even more vital to have strict security measures in place to safeguard data such as “audit controls and stringent password rules.”

At Reading Hospital, Scheirer and McKnight said that joining medical devices with the electronic health record system could lead to improvements in a gamut of medical services from glucose testing to bed pumps.

Scheirer refers to the example of a bed pump that administers medicine through a barcode system. With advances in medical device connectivity, the computerized bed pump will administer medicine by way of communication of medical devices and the EHR.

The two acknowledge that there are downfalls to such heavy reliance on medical device communication and electronic health records.

“But, overall, integration improves the integrity of the data that is being collected, and there is a time savings in the review process,” Scheirer said. “By and large, physicians support this integration.”

In Bethlehem, Brandon Neiswender is senior director of health information exchange and population health at St. Luke’s Health Network. In his department, he sees increased emphasis on giving patients access to electronic data and their personal health care, he said. Patients wear wristbands that keep track of information and communicate that data to the provider.

Neiswender said the hospital has integrated medical devices with EHRs, and, shortly, doctors will have iPads and other mobile devices that give them information taken from the EHRs.

He conceded that a downside to all of the technology is that there is alert fatigue among providers where they report being tired from processing all of this new information.

Neiswender said that while medical device connectivity and EHRs are an important topic for those in the medical community, it is essential to note that the entire industry is leaning toward outpatient care and keeping patients out of the hospital.

“Hospitals are buying and implementing this technology, but there is equal focus on patient disease prevention,” Neiswender said.

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