Keeping all of the time pieces in one's house synchronized represents a challenge to even the most obsessive of timekeepers. Most devices-clocks, cell phones, cable boxes, cars and more-include an internal or external clock to improve, track or coordinate functions. So when hospitals multiply those devices by a few thousand, keeping them synchronized doesn't just represent a challenge-it represents a threat to patient safety, claims a new study.
The Economist reports a study presented recently at a Beijing conference looked at a sample of 1,700 devices present at four prominent hospitals: Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hospins.
The study found just 3% of all devices exhibited the correct time-either internally or externally-and 20% were off by 30 minutes or more. One particularly egregious offender, an ultrasound machine, was running more than 42 years behind.
Far from being just a clever observation, study author Dr. Julian Goldman said the unsynchronized devices had the very real potential to cause patient harm. A dose administered to a patient and electronically recorded using one device could later be checked using another device using a different clock. Assuming a set time interval for gauging the correct dosing for an individual, even a small difference in the two devices could lead to a patient receiving an incorrect-and potentially fatal-dose of a drug.
With an average error time of more than 24 minutes, the study explained much work remained to be done, particularly when the time settings for some devices are not readily visible. Given a trend towards the use of electronic medical records, regulatory authorities might be increasingly looking into how devices interact and whether any fail-safe procedures exist to ensure the correct time and date is present for recording purposes.
This could be done by allowing devices to connect to a single server, noted the report, but such a change in device standards would not be without cost. The Economist notes "adding it now would mean rewriting software, retesting devices and resubmitting them for approval." These changes would carry "considerable costs," it added.
"Still, they may be ones the industry will have to bear," explained The Economist. "In the United States, the Department of Health has proposed new "meaningful use" rules that would require EMR systems to include NTP technology starting from 2014."
The Economist - Medical devices: A ticking time-bomb