Making Connections: Integrating Medical Devices with Electronic Medical Records

April 1, 2012 | Evaluations & Guidance


With the introduction of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which incentivizes the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs), healthcare facilities across the United States are focusing on installing and implementing electronic medical records (EMRs).1 However, the program is not only driving the adoption of EMRs, but also motivating advancements in other related areas, one of which is medical device connectivity.

Although no formal definition has been proposed for “medical device connectivity,” the term generally refers to the integration of medical devices with hospital information systems, which can facilitate a multitude of functions, including automated clinical documentation, alarm management and notification, remote surveillance, and data aggregation for retrospective review and analysis. Medical device connectivity is not part of the current HITECH meaningful use criteria that healthcare facilities must meet to qualify for incentive payments. However, medical device connectivity (and especially automated clinical documentation) can facilitate meaningful use by reducing errors associated with manual documentation and ensuring timely data transfer, and it is expected to become a part of future meaningful use requirements.

A major aspect of medical device connectivity is the integration of medical devices with hospital EMRs for the purpose of automating clinical documentation. This process enables data to flow directly from the medical device at the point of care (POC) into the patient’s medical record, meaning that the clinician will not need to manually enter patient data into the EMR. For the purposes of this article, we refer to systems that enable integration of medical devices with hospital EMRs as medical device connectivity solutions.

It is important to note that, in addition to communicating with the EMR, the connectivity solutions also communicate with other hospital information systems such as the admit/discharge/transfer (ADT) system and the personnel database (e.g., Microsoft Active Directory). Interfacing with the ADT system allows a patient’s demographics data to be displayed at the POC, facilitating patient identification. The interface to the hospital’s personnel database allows user authentication (via user log-in), when required by the solution.

Medical device connectivity solutions are available from medical device vendors, EMR vendors, and third-party vendors. Solutions offered by medical device vendors typically only work with specific vendor-supplied devices. Very few EMR vendors offer connectivity solutions; for those that do, the solutions may be specific to each vendor’s EMR (i.e., enterprise-wide medical device connectivity may only be possible if the organization is using that particular EMR vendor throughout its facility). A few solutions on the market, typically provided by third-party vendors, are intended to be device- and EMR-vendor-neutral—in other words, they allow enterprise-wide connectivity of different types of medical devices to any hospital EMR. The advantage of using a third-party connectivity solution over solutions from medical device vendors is that it allows a single vendor to manage the interface between the enterprise-wide medical device data and the EMR rather than requiring the user facility to manage multiple interfaces for each type of medical device (which can increase cost and complexity).

This article provides an introduction to medical device connectivity as well as an overview of some of the connectivity solutions currently available. Our focus is on solutions that are device- and EMR-vendor-neutral. Connectivity solutions are typically configurable based on user preference, and the configuration of the solution dictates its functionality. So rather than provide a comprehensive review of all the capabilities and configurations...

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