The Top Health Technology Hazards for 2013

By Christina Orlovsky Page, contributor

January 8, 2013 - As healthcare technology continues to change care delivery, one organization warns that along with the benefits of any new equipment come potential hazards that need to be addressed in order to protect patient safety. For the sixth consecutive year, ECRI Institute, a nonprofit healthcare research organization based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., has released a report aimed at helping healthcare leaders and clinicians minimize the risk of technology-related adverse events.

From health IT to medication administration, and electronic health records (EHRs) to clinical alarm hazards, the report is designed to raise awareness among health care providers of top areas of concern and offer hospitals and health systems self-assessment tools to prioritize the issues they personally need to address.

According to the report, the top 10 technology hazards of 2013 are:

  1. Alarm hazards
  2. Medication administration errors using infusion pumps
  3. Unnecessary exposures and radiation burns from diagnostic radiology procedures
  4. Patient/data mismatches in EHRs and other health IT systems
  5. Interoperability failures with medical devices and health IT systems
  6. Air embolism hazards
  7. Inattention to the needs of pediatric patients when using “adult” technologies
  8. Inadequate reprocessing of endoscopic devices and surgical instruments
  9. Caregiver distractions from smartphones and other mobile devices
  10. Surgical fires

James P. Keller, Jr., vice president of health technology evaluation and safety for ECRI Institute, explained that this top 10 list is prioritized in order of concern for ECRI.

“Addressing clinical alarm hazards is a top priority – not only is it number one on our list, but it’s really been recognized at a national level as an important safety concern,” Keller said.

However, he added that the top priority for hospitals should be to assess what items on this list are of the greatest concern to them using the self-assessment tool provided in the ECRI report.

“We hope that our list can motivate health care organizations to take a close look at technology safety,” he continued.  “A good example of that is The Johns Hopkins Hospital. They were the winner of ECRI Institute’s 2012 Health Devices Achievement Award for their initiative to improve the management of physiologic monitors and reduce alarm fatigue.”

“The interdisciplinary alarm management committee analyzed alarm data to gain an understanding of the type, frequency and duration of alarms and then applied multiple small tests of changes to alarm settings,” Keller explained. “By making modest changes to default parameter settings, along with standardizing care and equipment and providing reliable ancillary alarm notification, the team was able to significantly reduce the number of clinically insignificant alarms. Johns Hopkins attributes its success to the strong support from the alarm committee members who champion the alarm safety effort at the bedside.”

Among the most difficult challenges on this year’s list, according to Keller, are the ones with the most widely used technologies.

“The most difficult to fix is monitors and other devices with clinical alarms or infusion pumps, of which the typical hospital has several hundred. Also, the IT-based problems on our list are difficult to address because of the complexity and the integration involved,” he said, adding that over the past several years of the study, ECRI Institute has seen an increase in IT-based technologies on its list, likely due to the widespread deployment of information technology systems in the healthcare industry.

Keller also pointed out that as healthcare technology continues to evolve, frontline workers such as nurses who use this technology must be continually trained and invested in the implementation of new equipment and systems.

“Nurses in management roles can collaborate with their hospitals’ clinical engineering professionals and device manufacturers to make sure that their staff nurses are fully trained on the use and potential risks of their devices,” he concluded. “Newer technology is often more complex and harder for clinical staff to use and understand than more established medical devices. This increasing complexity brings on new risks.”

For more information on the top technology hazards to watch out for in the coming year, visit the ECRI Institute website and download the 2013 Top 10 Health Technology Hazards special report.