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HomeMedTech’s Role in Patient Safety 

MedTech’s Role in Patient Safety

By: Patient Safety Movement Foundation Board Members, Dr. Steven Barker and Omar Ishrak

The healthcare industry has undergone numerous changes in the last decade, but one area that has seen the most expansive growth has been the medical technology (Medtech) space. Medtech is a broad term and encompasses everything from making devices smaller, more intelligent, and more powerful to enhancing monitoring, improving communication through telemedicine, increasing data capture, and more. While a diverse category, these advancements all have the ability to play an integral role in patient safety. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way healthcare is delivered and has brought patient safety to the forefront. It triggered the need for healthcare to embrace video connections and leverage technology to support staff management through data. It also accelerated the use of portable technologies that make it possible to send patients home on the same day of major surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement, to free up hospital space. However, one of the key ways Medtech improves patient safety is through the use of advanced monitoring devices. Two examples include: 

  • Pulse oximeters: Deaths from prescribed medications such as opioids are often preventable, especially with proper oxygen monitoring. Yet roughly 7,000 patients die of opioid overdoses within hospital settings every year. These devices, which are non-invasive and measure the oxygen saturation level of blood, can provide a warning when levels dip below normal. With this indication, doctors or caretakers can be alerted before cardiac arrest occurs and respond to help the patient. While these devices have been around for a while, the pandemic accelerated the need for improved remote monitoring technology.  
  • Smart monitoring devices: Non-invasive devices that monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs can easily track and flag changes in patient condition to nurses and doctors before an incident occurs. While these devices can’t diagnose conditions, they can help doctors and nurses who have often been short-staffed during the pandemic ensure that a potentially serious medical emergency isn’t overlooked. Even more so, advances in this technology use real-time data to identify a list of potential diagnoses for doctors and nurses to explore. For example, this type of device can help identify the early warning signs of sepsis, one of the most fatal conditions in the hospital. When caught early, healthcare workers can react more quickly—improving the patient survival rate. 

One study analyzed the results of both pulse oximeters and wireless patient sensors across 71 general care beds in two units and found that the enhanced monitoring system received high staff satisfaction ratings and significantly improved key clinical elements related to early recognition of changes in patient state. These included reducing average vital sign data collection time by 28%, increasing patient monitoring time (rate ratio 1.22) and improving the availability and accuracy of patient information.

Beyond simply having this technology available, proper implementation and adoption are key to seeing successful results. In fact, health systems need to embrace the idea that technology itself isn’t a solution, but it is a tool. Therefore, when exploring solutions, here are three steps that need to be addressed:  

  • Invest wisely. With a wide variety of potentially enticing Medtech advances hitting the market every year, it is important to evaluate the best investments based on a deep understanding of how technology can improve outcomes. Healthcare systems should begin by evaluating their internal data and identifying the most critical areas they can improve. They should then ask the question “Can this technology improve these particular outcomes?” 
  • Get staff on board. In order for technology to be successful, physicians and nurses need to understand the role it can play, as well as how to properly use it to support their day-to-day patient interactions. To help improve staff buy-in, involve them in the process and ensure they are trained and feel comfortable with the devices. Aligning incentives with adoption can also improve uptake, and ultimately, outcomes.  
  • Ensure patient acceptance. Over 44% of patients surveyed in 2021 were more worried about receiving worse care following the pandemic. Therefore, it is critical that patients feel comfortable with new medical technology and understand how it can improve results. In addition, healthcare workers need to ensure that patients know how to properly wear and respond to smart devices especially at home. 

As we see the influx of technology innovation and growth within the healthcare industry, it’s important that we come together to conquer the hurdles in the process of adoption in order to improve patient safety.

About the authors: 

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Steven Barker, Ph.D., MD, is a professor emeritus of anesthesiology at the University of Arizona. He has also been involved with Masimo Corporation, a world leader in medical technology, since its beginnings in 1990 and now serves as Masimo’s chief science officer and member of its board of directors. He is actively involved with the Patient Safety Movement Foundation (PSMF) and serves on its board of directors.  

Omar Ishrak is a global healthcare and technology thought leader with 35 years of experience using technology to innovate, invent and disrupt healthcare. Ishrak served as chairman and CEO of Medtronic from 2011-2020. He currently serves on the Patient Safety Movement Foundation’s board and is chairman of the board of directors at Intel.

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