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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, June 25, 2007

Getting medical devices to talk to each other

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

There is no shortage of examples to illustrate the frustrating technological gaps that can put patients’ lives at risk, Dr. Julian M. Goldman told a conference on health care technology and safety yesterday.

Take the ventilator used during heart surgery, for instance, the Massachusetts General Hospital anesthesiologist and biomedical engineer said. The patient needs the ventilator both before and after using the heart/lung machine that pumps blood during heart surgery. But doctors can forget to turn the turn the ventilator back on – and the alarm that signals when the machine isn’t working is often silenced because it tends to go off unnecessarily. It would make sense if there were an alarm that sounded only when both machines were off, but that's not possible, Goldman said, because the two machines, made by different companies, can’t talk to each other.

"There's no shortage of clinical scenarios," Goldman, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said in an interview, after a morning filled with stories of fragmented health information. "The challenge is to turn war stories into actionable solutions."

Interoperability – the way for medical devices to work together – is the subject of the three-day conference that started in Cambridge today and is sponsored by the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology among others. The conversation includes electronic health records in all settings and remote monitoring of health conditions.

Dr. Robert M. Kolodner, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, challenged audience members from health care, business and government to forget their professional roles for a moment.

“Make it personal. Think about the quality and value of the health care services you and your family demand."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:08 PM
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