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Why aren’t medical machines talking to each other?

To err is human, the saying goes. To really screw things up you need a computer. If we presume the truth of that statement, it might be another good reason to give us all pause when we find ourselves having to spend time as a patient in the hospital.

As we have noted in more than one previous post, health care relies a lot on technology. In one post we offered the observation that, if used well, technology has the potential to prevent medical errors. But it also depends on the human beings who use the technology actually communicating well with each other.

Today, we thought we’d look at the flip side of that coin and pose the question, why don’t medical technology tools do a better job of talking amongst themselves? At a time when automatic syncing of phones, computers, tablets, video and audio sources is widespread, doesn’t it make sense that the devices in hospitals would share that same capability?

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case as a recent survey of nurses reveals. According to the poll, nurses say they are using more and more computerized technology in the course of caring for any given patient. But they say that because the different devices don’t share common data points automatically, too much time is spent manually syncing information. And they say they believe that’s raising the risk of preventable medical errors.

A report on the poll also notes a second survey of hospitals that found that nearly all of them use six or more devices that could integrate individual electronic health records, but only about a third of them take advantage of the capability. And those hospitals that do only sync three devices on average.

In the Harris Poll of 526 nurses done in January, half reported that they have seen medical errors occur because devices weren’t coordinated. And just about half of the respondents shared the opinion that preventable errors could be reduced by 25 percent with greater interoperability.

Ultimately, even if devices talk to each other, it’s possible to suffer injury due to negligence. And accountability may depend on pursuing any compensation that may be due.