During a recent stay at a very well respected Dallas area hospital that saw my wife and I welcome our first child into the world, I was reminded that the Device Divide that separates the vast majority of healthcare providers’ medical device data from the rest of their clinical information network is not limited to just small to medium-size hospitals.
Given the fact that the hospital is part of a large statewide chain and would likely be labeled as cutting edge from a technological standpoint, I was somewhat surprised to see a nurse come in every 2-3 hours to dutifully record my wife and son’s vitals in a paper chart. I’m sure that information was re-entered into an EMR at some point, but I couldn’t help but wonder how often the data gets transposed or forgotten.
That experience begs the question – why has it taken so long to bring patient care device data online, even at some of the nation’s largest hospitals? The problem of crossing the Device Divide – that gulf between the hospital network and its medical devices that is typically traversed by the nursing staff with pen and paper – is not an easy one.
One reason is a lack of cost-effective, reliable solutions for doing so. Device connectivity has only recently (within the past couple years) been given the attention that it warrants, and early solutions have been plagued with the same kinds of ‘kinks’ that any early stage technological advancements have encountered.
Another closely related explanation for the delay in crossing the Device Divide is that enabling devices to bridge that gap represents quite a leap outside of most manufacturers’ technological sweet spot. That’s not to say that they’re not extremely capable. In fact, the exact opposite is true – patient care device OEM employees are some of the brightest that I’ve run across. It’s just that, as Robert Nadler, an employee at a device manufacturer, recently blogged:
The problem… is that we don’t have the resources to build each unique interface required to satisfy all of our customers. Plus that, our business is building medical devices, not EMR solutions.
Device companies have spent years building R&D and engineering departments focused on building better and better equipment that takes more and more accurate readings in the easiest possible manner. Their aptitude for doing just that is what has always separated them from every other device manufacturer with whom they compete.
But bridging the divide requires a very different skill set – the ability to write software that provides HL7 integration capabilities that enable devices to interface with countless EMRs and other clinical applications. And once written those healthcare integration systems become much like an NFL referee – the good ones go unnoticed, and the bad ones gain the kind of notoriety we would all like to avoid. Despite representing a critical part of the total connected device solution, from the customer’s perspective there is nothing tangible about an interfacing system that will make them value it enough to justify the cost of ramping up a development shop to construct it in-house.
That’s why I think the interfacing conundrum is one that lends itself nicely to the idea behind Joseph Nemeth’s article entitled The Drive Toward Collaborative Innovation for Medical Devices in the August 2006 issue of Product Design & Development magazine. In it, he concludes that:
“Collaborative partnerships provide a balance of assessing what organizations require from outside sources given their need to innovate, and what they must retain to achieve their business and revenue objectives. It is a sound enterprise strategy that can minimize time to market, reduce costs, generate differentiated offerings, and drive a business model for sustained industry growth.”
Collaborating with a strategic partner well versed in ways to cross the Device Divide could prevent manufacturers from stretching their resources too thin and keep them from stepping too far outside their core competency. If chosen wisely, such a partner could help get a sound connectivity strategy in place for much less than the cost of taking on the initiative in a vacuum.
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