Nurses believe medical errors could be reduced if the medical devices hospitals rely on for testing, monitoring, and treating patients could seamlessly share information, according to the results of a national survey of more than 500 nurses conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the Gary and Mary West Health Institute.

Each year, it is estimated that more than 400,000 Americans die from preventable medical errors. This not only takes an enormous emotional toll on families and friends, but also places a heavy economic burden on the nation—an estimated trillion dollars or higher. As hospitals wage a war on error, there is growing appreciation that medical devices, while individually safe and effective at improving care and saving lives, can create risks for patients and challenges for clinicians when not seamlessly connected.
According to the survey, half of these nurses said they witnessed a medical error resulting from a lack of coordination among medical devices in a hospital setting. Devices include everything from infusion pumps, ventilators, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure cuffs to electronic health records. The weighted survey was conducted online from January 7–16, 2015, and included 526 nurses (credentialed at RN or higher and with an education of BSN or higher) who work full–time in a non–school setting.

Among these nurses, three in five (60%) said medical errors could be significantly reduced if medical devices were connected and shared data with each other automatically. This problem could be addressed by the widespread adoption of open communications standards that allow for the safe and secure exchange of data.

“Nurses are the front line of patient care and have an unrivaled ability to identify and address problems at the intersection of patients and technology,” says Dr. Joseph Smith, West Health Institute’s chief medical and science officer. “The survey helps show how much of a nurse’s time could be better spent in direct care of patients and families, and how errors could be potentially avoided if medical devices, which have been so successful at improving patient care, were able to take the next step and seamlessly share critical information around the patient’s bedside.”

Medical device interoperability, the ability to safely share health information across various technologies and systems, could provide important benefits such as enhanced patient safety and better clinical outcomes at a lower cost. The West Health Institute has estimated that a system of connected devices could potentially save more than $30 billion each year by reducing redundant testing, manual data entry, and transcription errors.

According to the survey, nearly half of these nurses (46%) said an error is extremely or very likely to occur when information must be manually transcribed from one device to another.

“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,” said one nurse who participated in the anonymous poll.
But perhaps even more important, transcribing data “takes way too much time for the nurses to adequately care for the patient,” one nurse responded. Many of these nurses agreed, with more than two out of three (69%) saying manually transcribing data is very likely to take time away from patients who need attention.

“Nurses enter the profession because they want to care for patients, not because they are interested in programming machines,” says Patricia H. Folcarelli, RN, senior director of Patient Safety at the Silverman Institute for Health Care Quality and Safety at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “As many as 10 devices may monitor or treat a single patient in an intensive care unit. The nurse not only has to program and monitor the machines, he or she often spends a significant amount of time transcribing data by hand because the devices are not designed to share information.”

“It’s time that we free our health care workers to do what they do best and what they are most needed for, which is caring for patients,” says Smith. “Let’s not ask busy clinicians to do those things that technology can automate easily and effectively. Medical device interoperability can save lives, time, and money, and at the same time allow nurses to focus on caring for patients.”

ABOUT THE WEST HEALTH INSTITUTE
The Gary and Mary West Health Institute is an independent, nonprofit medical research organization that works with health care providers and research institutions to create new, more cost–effective ways of delivering high–quality care. For more information, visit www.westhealth.org.

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