Study Says Medical Device Interoperability Could Save $30B a Year

Xconomy San Diego — 

Like a proverbial Tower of Babel, hospitals nowadays come with medical devices that are unable to share critical data—but innovation enabling health care equipment and systems to share information could save more than $30 billion a year in healthcare costs.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis conducted by the San Diego-based West Health Institute. The institute’s chief medical and science officer, Joseph M. Smith, highlighted the study yesterday in testimony before Congress. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health has been holding hearings this week to look at how the FDA should regulate medical applications on smartphones and tablets. The committee concludes its third day of hearings today.

“Our healthcare delivery system is exceeding both our nation’s budget and our providers’ bandwidth without meeting our patients’ needs,” Smith told the panel yesterday. “We see an enormous opportunity to use information technology devices, innovation, mobile and wireless technology, and smart and learning systems to both transform healthcare delivery and to create empowered and informed consumers of healthcare.”

The committee, which oversees both the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, is looking specifically at how regulation affects patients, physicians, and innovators who are looking to capitalize on the growing field of mobile health and medical apps. In a March 1 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the committee questioned whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows the FDA to define smartphones and tablets with health-related apps as medical devices—and if that means they could be taxed as medical devices under the healthcare law.

In a statement, the West Health Institute says patients in a typical hospital intensive care unit can be treated by as many as 12 different medical devices, including defibrillators, electrocardiographs, vital sign monitors, ventilators, and infusion pumps. Such devices are typically purchased from different manufacturers, and often require costly IT customization so their various functions can be integrated. Even so, the potential for miscommunication poses a risk to patient care.

While there has been some progress in developing interoperability standards, Smith says the healthcare industry still falls short of adoption.

In addition to saving healthcare dollars, the West Health Institute says functional interoperability would help improve patient care and help prevent adverse events. For example, an infusion pump providing a cancer patient’s pain medication could ensure that a patient isn’t being over-medicated by sharing data with the patient’s vital sign monitor. Such equipment is typically independent and requires multiple manual settings, which increases the potential for error.