Guest Post: Medical Devices and EMR Integration – A More Convenient Future or Troubles Galore?

Posted on August 5, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In this post, Susan White looks at the real challenges that we face with integrating medical devices with EMR software. The lack of real industry wide standards is really at the crux of this issue and I don’t see a solution to this in sight. First, we probably need to narrow down the more than 300+ EMR vendors to something more manageable.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and more convenient, but when said technology makes us adopt roundabout ways to do work and takes up more of our time in the process, it is worse than useless. In such cases, it becomes a white elephant that costs more than it is worth, and it’s better to do without the technology than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that’s not more than a showpiece. This is exactly what’s happening with EMR systems – they’re supposed to make medical history access, updates and management as easy as pie for hospitals and other healthcare facilities; instead, they’re becoming a headache because of integration problems.

In an ideal world (the one that the EMR was designed for), medical devices could be hooked to EMR systems which would automatically record readings for patients and store them in the right records. However, in reality, the machine spews out the values and nurses or technicians record them on paper and then feed them manually into the EMR. If this is the norm rather than the anomaly, why invest in EMRs? Why not just use a regular patient database that can be queried for patient records and updated manually?

The problem is not that the medical devices or the EMR are faulty – rather, it is the fact that there are serious integration issues between the two. Direct capture seems to be something that is destined to remain the stuff of dreams because different manufacturers adhere to varying standards and this means that the integration protocol changes. There is no industry-wide standard for the integration of medical devices and EMR systems and because of this, integration becomes a thorny issue.

The very purpose of using EMRs is to reduce medical errors, decrease the amount of paperwork, boost staff productivity, and deliver clinical results in an accurate and timely manner. When manual data entry is used as opposed to automatic data capture, all the above advantages are nullified, and this means that the healthcare facility has wasted money in the course of the EMR investment.

The trouble here is that connectivity to and integration with medical devices is an afterthought for EMR manufacturers. Besides, with each company following its own standards for connectivity hubs, there is no way that all EMRs can be uniformly hooked up to all medical devices. There are ways to resolve this issue, but it has to be consciously addressed by the healthcare facility that is investing in an EMR. They have to ensure that their devices are connected to the EMR to facilitate automatic data capture, and if they are not, they must work with the EMR provider or the device manufacturer or a third party vendor to provide a suitable connectivity interface.

But with cost being a substantial factor, most healthcare facilities are averse to such extra efforts; this leaves the future of EMR systems in a limbo – how long will people continue to invest in elephants if they know that they are white and so prone to expenditure without proving their worth? Only time will tell!

This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of surgical technician schools. She invites your questions, comments at her email