Over the last decade, spending on health technology has increased exponentially, according to health care technology management professionals in the field. Although there is no question that implementing new technologies has the potential to help patients, it also presents potential risks.

Technology and patient safety

Incorporating feedback from device end users into the design process helps identify and mitigate potential risks before a real patient ever sees the device.

Advances in health technology have helped address some common sources of medical errors. For example, more than 75 percent of U.S. hospitals use so-called “smart infusion pumps” to deliver intravenous medication, which have helped reduce adverse drug events, such as delivering the wrong medication or amount, according to a 2012 survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. However, the introduction of additional technology in the health care setting also increases complexity, which in and of itself can be a cause of medical error.

Introducing new technologies in patient care environments without giving sufficient consideration to human factors, needed workflow changes, user training and the effects of data overload on clinicians all can contribute to technology-related medical errors. In fact, approximately 75 percent of the problems in the ECRI Institute’s medical technology problem reporting system are related to use error, specifically around the mastery of complex technology.

Steps hospitals can take

When it comes to selecting and purchasing safe and effective health technology, there are several steps hospitals can take to assess the usability and safety of a device, according to human factors experts.

1. Determine

Determine whether the device has undergone adequate usability testing in line with Food and Drug Administration guidance. This is important because incorporating feedback from device end users into the design process helps identify and mitigate potential risks before a real patient ever sees the device.

2. Evaluate

Evaluate the device in-house for user-centered design qualities, in addition to reviewing third-party evaluations.

3. Test

Test the equipment in the actual physical use environment to see how clinicians use the device in real-world situations and if any red flags appear.

4. Consult

Consult ANSI/AAMI HE75:2009/(R)2013, “Human factors engineering—Design of medical devices,” a standard that provides detailed guidance about design and evaluation.

5. Question

Ask questions to determine whether the command input process and output sequences are well designed, such as: does the device perform the actions I wish to initiate? Does it understand my instructions? Does it deny inappropriate inputs? Does it come with adequate external or embedded instructions for use?

6.Train

Provide adequate training that encourages proficient and consistent use of technology across users. Training should provide thorough attention to significant hazards and the means to mitigate them, as well as develop troubleshooting skills and provide methods for identifying error recovery actions.

By providing the makers of health technology with feedback and preparing clinicians to utilize this technology in patient care settings, hospitals can make significant strides in reducing preventable patient harm and improving outcomes associated with the use of health technology.