EHRs and Integrated Devices — What is Available for Your Practice?

In 2011, adoption of EHRs seems to be all about Meaningful Use. With the intense focus on meeting Meaningful Use requirements, it is easy to lose sight of the other advantages of EHRs. One of these is the ability to attach diagnostic devices directly to your EHR (via USB or wireless connection) and capture data and additional diagnostic information automatically into a patient’s chart. However, there are a number of important considerations.

Garrison Gomez, Director of Integrated Solutions for Welch Allyn recommends that physicians should carefully examine their desired workflow before selecting a diagnostic device. For example, if working in a practice that requires the ability to move with your computer between examination rooms, wireless connectivity may be required. However, mobility requires an existing wireless network and costs can be significantly higher than connecting the devices via a USB cable.

The most commonly available devices monitor vital signs such as BP, Pulse, SpO2, and Temperature; however, expect in the future a wide range of devices for cardiology, respiratory medicine, and other medical and surgical specialties. In certain settings, connected devices are ubiquitous. For example, walk into any emergency room and you will see a plethora of connected devices attached to patients, beeping and displaying blood pressure and other vital signs on a continuous basis. Similarly, in the operating room, an anesthesiologist has a completely integrated suite of equipment that collects, stores, and displays vital information for immediate action if needed.

This is the promise for EHRs — the ability to have the mundane and repetitive tasks of measuring vital signs as well as more sophisticated diagnostics collected and immediately integrated into the EMR. All without any further effort other than connecting a cuff or examining a patient. Now that would be a real timesaver and would also reduce inaccuracies related to entering data into the EHR. While this seems to be a logical next step for EHRs, there are some challenges and points to consider with regard to connected medical devices.

  • Integrating devices into an EHR is a costly and time intensive process. Although standards have been developed, each EHR has a proprietary database and structure. As a result, building and maintaining the interface to an EHR requires ongoing commitment by the vendor, particularly as new versions of the EHR software are released.
  • Not all integrated devices are the same. The integrated devices market varies country by country. In the United States, the market is dominated by three companies (Philips, Welch Allyn, and GE) with the majority of devices more focused towards hospital settings. In addition, the amount of interface development with a specific EHR system can result in significant differences in the way the data is presented in the EHR.
  • Larger, more established EHR vendors will offer the widest range of connected devices and options. As a result, if data collection through connected diagnostics is important in your practice, your EHR choices may be more limited.

If you currently use an EHR and if your vendor does not yet offer integration with connected diagnostic devices, offer feedback through your user groups and vendor forums. As with the tablet market, it took Apple getting the iPad right before we saw a widespread availability of tablets. The same will happen once we have increased demand and a wider range of easily connectible devices.

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