Medical devices now measure and track many types of clinical information about patients. But few of these devices can communicate with others. Instead, healthcare workers must manually transfer data from the devices to patients' electronic health records.
“If you're ill, you'll be surrounded by as many as a dozen devices,” said Dr. Joseph Smith, chief medical and science officer at the West Health Institute. “Each of them focuses as if it's alone.”
For example, the medical device that delivers a hypertension drug also should be able to access a patient's blood-pressure reading and adjust the drug accordingly, Smith said. “This is something that technology does extremely well, if you let it,” he said.
EHR systems offered by different vendors often don't share information either. This lack of interoperability results in a greater risk of error, lack of coordination among care settings, and wasted time and money.
“The biggest cost is, we're wearing out our healthcare workers,” said Ed Cantwell, executive director of the Center for Medical Interoperability. His group hopes to leverage the clout of healthcare providers to force technology vendors to build low-cost, two-way “plug and play” interoperability for seamless data exchange into all health information technology systems.
The West Health Institute estimates that medical interoperability could save the U.S. healthcare system as much as $30 billion a year by reducing redundant testing, adverse events, manual data entry and information delays that cause longer lengths of stay. One study found that 16.5% of missed emergency department diagnoses that harmed patients were linked to problems transmitting test results to the provider.
Until now, device and EHR vendors haven't had incentives to develop software and other technologies that communicate with competitors' products, Cantwell said. In the U.S., no single health system makes up enough of any vendor's business to force change. Healthcare technology purchasers have to change that dynamic, he argued.