The biggest mistakes hospitals make implementing wireless technology

The report recommended that hospitals take greater care planning for wireless technology implementation.

In perhaps no other field are stakes higher for proper wireless integration than the healthcare industry. In other arenas, technology failure can simply result in a loss of time, money and resources, but, at a medical facility, improperly implemented or malfunctioning wireless resources could potentially lead to a loss of life. The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) recently convened to assess the current state of wireless technology in healthcare, identify looming issues and suggest potential solutions. The workshop’s resulting report, Healthcare Technology in a Wireless World, found several repeated errors hospitals make when attempting to integrate wireless technology into their existing systems.

The appeal of wireless tech
Medical wireless technology has come a long way from the ubiquitous pagers of the ‘90s. The devices of today can help hospital staff remotely monitor patients’ conditions, gain easier access to medical records, and facilitate communication between medical care providers. Perhaps some hospital administrators have been too eager to implement these features, as the report discovered that most errors were simply the result of poor planning.

Eagerness leads to planning errors
The report found that many healthcare providers were subject to poor judgment during the planning stages of wireless technology integration into their facilities. Attributing many of these instances with “shiny object syndrome”, AAMI’s report concluded that medical officials have been so eager to install the newest wireless devices, they sometimes don’t take the time to test equipment, realistically estimate budget expenditures, or even fully understand the functionality and limitations of their new resources. Some administrators don’t even consider whether a particular wireless device is the best tool for a given situation.

According to Mindray of North America’s Ken Fuchs, “Sometimes wireless is just not reliable enough to assure adequate patient safety, and a wired approach should be used…Wireless for wireless’ sake is not a good strategy for critical medical applications.”

Failing to consider patient safety
Additionally, the report found that these instances of healthcare administrators’ eagerness to quickly implement new wireless technology, including computer monitoring software, at times came at the expense of patient safety. Workshop member Todd Cooper cited the example of a hospital pushing the installation of a radiology system even though it was still going through a testing phase. The report also cautions that many wireless devices are not necessarily designed with hospital patients’ safety as a concern, and great care and consideration for the ramifications of their usage should be taken.

Making wireless tech safer
The report concludes that many of these implementation errors would not occur if basic risk assessment measures were in place. Taking the time to properly assess a facility’s given needs and limitations, including any structural issues that may interfere with a device’s functionality, would lead to far less instances of wireless resource malfunction. In addition, workshop members stressed the need to routinely test installed equipment as well as maintain technician staff to quickly alleviate any hardware errors. The report noted that, while wireless technology failures have yet to endanger patient safety on a large scale, continuing to improperly implement new technology could put lives at risk down the road.

As reported by Infection Control Today, AAMI president Mary Logan said, “This year’s summit focused on bigger and broader issues that haven’t been widely publicized for causing harm – yet.”

Are hospitals rushing to utilize new technology at the expense of patient safety? Are you concerned that healthcare administrators are lacking the proper consideration for wireless technology’s limitations?

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.