Nurses say lack of medical device connectivity, interoperability creates medical errors

By Jonah Comstock
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Lack of medical device connectivity and interoperability are big contributors to preventable medical errors, according to a recent survey of nurses. According to the 526 registered nurses who participated in , which was commissioned by the Gary and Mary West Health Institute and conducted by Harris Poll, nurses end up shouldering a lot of the burden of medical devices and electronic health records that don't integrate well together.

Half of the nurses surveyed said they had personally witnessed a medical error that occurred because of a lack of device coordination.

The problem, West Health contends in its report, is that the many different medical monitoring devices in the hospital don't communicate with each other. Some can communicate indirectly through the EHR, but others need to have their readings manually transcribed onto paper charts by nurses, which opens up a lot of room for error. Forty-six percent of nurses said an error is extremely likely to occur if data is manually transcribed from one device and then entered into an EHR or another device.

"I have seen many instances where numbers were incorrectly transcribed or put in reverse or put in the wrong column when typed manually, which can cause errors," one nurse told researchers.

Ninety-three percent of nurses surveyed agree or strongly agree that medical devices should be able to seamlessly share data with one another automtically. If this were achieved, 60 percent said errors could be significantly reduced, and 96 percent admitted that errors could be reduced at least slightly. Nearly half of nurses believed that one in four medical errors would be prevented in a world with perfect medical device interoperability.

Sixty-seven percent of nurses said they interacted with medical devices at the bedside. Forty-one percent spent more than three hours per shift working with medical devices, and 19 percent said they spent more than four hours.

Thirty-nine percent of nurses cited interoperability as the most challenging aspect of working with medical devices, while 40 percent said the most challenging aspect was that it took them away from patient care. Sixty-nine percent agreed that giving bedside nurses the freedom to focus on patient needs without distraction was the most important way to improve patient safety.

Seventy-four percent of nurses surveyed strongly agreed that it was burdensome to coordinate data between devices, with 24 percent saying they somewhat agreed. And 47 percent said handling or working with medical devices was the least productive use of their time.

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