Report from HIMSS: Technology trends blur distinctions between techies and engineers

February 16, 2005

The push toward patient safety and technology effectiveness has begun to loosen the traditional boundaries between the worlds of information technology and clinical engineering.

The push toward patient safety and technology effectiveness has begun to loosen the traditional boundaries between the worlds of information technology and clinical engineering.

IT and CE spheres of responsibility increasingly overlap as new technologies address quality and patient safety, said Jeffrey Cooper, director of Biomedical Engineering at Partners Healthcare System, at theHealthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting Wednesday morning.

"IT and CE are beginning to look similar because medical devices are really just computers that are connected directly to patients," Cooper said.

Cooper gave as examples cardiovascular monitors, dialysis machines, anesthesia machines, infant incubators, and infusion pumps.

"These technologies must be designed and implemented carefully to ensure safety and effectiveness," he said.

He pointed out that technology can be a double-edged sword.

"As complexity increases, there is more to be scared about," he said. "These are serious issues."

The average patient is connected to two smart infusion pumps. Developments such as these are forcing IT and CE communities to work together. Cooper cited a number of shared processes in the technological intersection. Not the least is patient safety.

"Patient safety calls out for stronger collaboration," he said. "No one should ever get hurt in the healthcare system."

The eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. is medical error, according to the 1999 Institute of Medicine's report, "To Err is Human."

"The majority of the errors committed are system errors, not attributable to individual misconduct or negligence," Cooper said. "This is critical because we are all part of the system."

Traditionally, CE has provided life-critical service at the bedside, whereas IT fulfilled a more institutional mission-critical charter.

"The bedside is one area where CE and IT will grow closer," Cooper said. "Someone must respond immediately at bedside."

The collaboration between CE and IT must become more extensive and strategic. Collaboration requires that each group realize they need each other, develop an ongoing dialogue mechanism, and look for common ground, Cooper said.

"It's easier said than done, but collaboration can be fun and rewarding," he said.

View more stories and images from the conference at the Diagnostic Imaging HIMSS Webcast.