HTM–IT Communication Breakdown Named Top Issue at Conference Forum

Posted June 12, 2017

Can’t we all just get along?

Communication breakdowns dominated a (mostly) lighthearted open forum discussion, “Top 10 Issues Facing Healthcare Technology Management,” held Sunday at the AAMI 2017 Conference & Expo.

“Does anyone ever have a device magically appear in their biomed department with a sticky note that says, ‘broke’?” asked co-host Erin Sparnon, engineering manager at ECRI Institute. “Or a ‘friend’ who’s had that happen?”

Sparnon and Pat Baird, head of global software standards at Philips, facilitated the discussion using data collected from both AAMI’s 2014 survey on top medical device challenges and the ECRI Institute’s annual survey, Top 10 Healthcare Technology Hazards.

A common thread tied together the discussion—a burgeoning tension between healthcare technology management (HTM) and information technology (IT) departments and both departments’ unwillingness―or inability―to communicate despite continued convergence between the fields.

“I don’t maybe like our hospital’s IT director as much as I should,” said one participant, which elicited laughter from the crowd.

“A lot of the people who set up the systems are probably retired,” joked another.

But with more medical devices becoming wirelessly connected, and prone to cyberattacks, it’s more important than ever for HTM and IT to be on the same page. Several participants highlighted the need to improve relations, particularly when it comes to patch management.

“If you don’t have a good relationship with your IT department, you better get one,” said a session attendee. “If you really stop and think about it, you’re doing mission-critical work, but when we’re talking about patient data it’s life-critical. IT has to understand that no longer can they throw patches and say, ‘It’ll be good.’ We have to do tests to see if it will cause major issues.”

An increase in health system compliance evaluations is one reason why the seams between HTM and IT are becoming exposed, Sparnon said. Many HTM and IT departments are having trouble determining which department is responsible for what tasks.

“Identifying those gaps is helpful because ECRI and AAMI have been telling hospitals that biomed and IT need to work together,” Sparnon said. “Ten years ago, all the medical devices were biomed and clinical engineering, while the computers belonged to IT. We’ve been in a hybrid approach for the last several years, but we’re finding that they’re not necessarily covering everything.”

Ultimately, that will have to change.

“What I’m learning from this meeting and annual conference,” Baird said, “is that silos don’t work anymore.”

According to an AAMI survey published in BI&T, the top 10 medical device issues facing HTM professionals are:

  1. Managing devices and systems on the IT network
  2. Integrating device data into the electronic health record
  3. Infusion pump systems
  4. Cybersecurity of devices/systems
  5. Device incident reporting/investigations
  6. Managing recalls
  7. Wireless/spectrum management
  8. Battery management
  9. Endoscope management
  10. Nonhospital-owned devices brought in by patients