Health care has gone high-tech over the years, with cutting edge care and state-of-the-art equipment. There's a lot of it and it's complex. But now, with electronic medical records fine-tuned over the last five years, medical experts say the next step is interoperability.
"In its simplest terms, it means that devices are able to talk to each other and share the information they collect, whether it's a patient monitor, an infusion pump, a radiology system," explained Charlie Miceli, the deputy chief information officer at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
And the goal is to have all of that information flow directly into a patient's electronic medical record, available to doctors, nurses and other caregivers in real time. Fletcher Allen is at the forefront of the movement. It's part of an international effort aimed at improving patient safety-- providing timely, accessible information in one place-- while minimizing human error.
"It doesn't entirely reduce it, but it's a mitigation and there's always a human factor and what companies and ourselves-- we have to design around that to keep our patients safe," Miceli said.
So when equipment needs replacing, Fletcher Allen requires its medical manufacturers to provide devices that can interface with those electronic records. It's been protocol for about a year now, with thousands of infusion pumps, hundreds of monitors and other equipment to turn over over time. Miceli says the equipment is not more expensive than what they currently have, but it is a huge step forward for those on the front lines.
"It wasn't put there in real time, so it took some person who had some less busy time to go and put that information in where it was recorded. So in real time if you wanted to know what the vital signs were in your patient, you had to go in front of the patient, or go to the nurse and get the sheet of paper they were keeping it on. Now, instantly the information is right there in front of you," said Dr. Steve Leffler, the medical director at Fletcher Allen.
Leffler says providers will be able to take that instantaneous data from multiple sources-- from vital signs, blood pressure, heart rhythms, images and ventilators-- to help predict how a patient is going to fare.
"I think if you went to any hospital in the country and you said are you working on interoperability, they would say yes. If you asked them the next question, well do you have your monitors already going into electronic medical records, do you have your EKGs stored there, do you have the data from radiology coming there? Most of them would say no," Leffler said.
Doctors say interoperability with medical devices will cut costs, increase provider productivity and improve patient care. It's the next step in the high-tech world of health care.
Officials at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tell us they, too, are adding interoperative equipment, with vital sign monitors and anesthesia data in the operating room feeding directly into patients' medical records.
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