Making Devices Interoperable Offers $30B Savings Opportunity

Right now, it’s a hit and miss thing whether hospital medical devices can talk to each other or connect with the facility’s EMR. A lack of standards — and money for next-gen devices — has made such interoperability a very tough job. But getting the job done is worth the trouble, a new story in iHealthBeat suggests.

At present, patients in hospitals are treated with six to 12 medical devices in a typical intensive care unit, including defibrillators, electrocardiographs, vital sign monitors, ventilators and infusion pumps, typically from a mix of manufacturers, notes West Health Institute.  Because these devices aren’t inherently interoperable, hospitals spend big on IT infrastructure to connect them.

There’s plenty of reason to make them connect, however. A study by West Health has concluded that if the industry could improve medical device interoperability and adhere to interoperability standards,  it could shave $30 billion off of U.S. healthcare costs.  According to the report, the U.S. spends $36 billion each year on “addressable waste” resulting from a lack of medical device interoperability.  Savings the U.S. could realize breaks down as follows, iHealthBeat reports:

  • $17.8 billion from higher treatment capacity that would result from shorter hospital stays
  • $12.3 billion from increased clinician productivity
  • $3 billion from reducing the cost of providing care
  • $2 billion from reducing adverse events
  • $1.2 billion from wider adoption of interoperability standards

But getting to the point where interoperability is common could take a long time, according to West Health’s Joseph Smith, who recently testified on the Hill on this subject. Right now, only one-third of hospitals using six or more medical devices that can be integrated with EMRs have actually done the integration work, Smith told a House subcommittee.

What’s more, vendors will need to invest in R&D to turn out next-gen interoperable devices, a cost that will be at least partly absorbed rather than passed on to the buyer, Smith noted.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

1 Comment

  • Many people have no idea what the benefits would be, but even a casual study of the issue gives a good idea. For instance, EKG data is readily stored and analyzed by computers, and that data can spot minute changes or problems and create alerts if needed. Infusion pumps are at best, difficult to properly setup, and are often not set as per a treating physician’s orders. Plus, connecting them to an EHR system in a hospital or treatment facility can alert staff when problems occur. And if you want to take it a step further, EKG, pulse and respiration data can warn of possible dangerous reactions to an infusion, alerting staff or slowing down the infusion rate to reduce problems. And in an ER, as test results come in, the system can help the doctor narrow down a diagnosis, or as treatments are given, the system can monitor changes in rate, bp, etc.

    Clearly we can see a way to better use of hospital facilities, reduced waiting time, more efficient treatment, and sometimes better outcomes. All can reduce costs, but there is far more then just improved financials. There is also improved population health and the opportunity for better data for studies of various illnesses and treatments.

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