There has been a healthcare information revolution occurring in the hospitals and clinics where the rubber meets the road. It is a result of the convergence of many forces but particularly a government mandated national Electronic Healthcare Record (EHR) system initiative, and the need to reduce healthcare cost. One of the best examples of the positive impact of an EHR system on healthcare can be found in the Veterans Adminsitration development and the result of its use of VISTA.
As a result of the emphasis on Healthcare Information Management a rethinking about how the Biomedical Engineering / Clinical Engineering Department relate to the Information Technology Department is occurring. Their increasingly interdependent nature is causing some hospitals the BMET Department is becoming part of the Information Technology Department. This is quite a change from the current management structures that are in place which generally place the Biomedical Engineering/Clinical Engineering Departments under Maintenance Department or Operations. In every hospital it has created the need for IT specialists within the BMET department that can work at the technical and organizational interface between IT and medical hardware.
Clearly the growing trend to integrate medical data from clinical equipment is also impacting corporate strategies for new products. A common business strategy to exploiting a new technology is to find ways to develop proprietary systems which force the hospital to standardize on the corporation’s products. Often that means proprietary data structures and communications protocols for and between equipment made by the corporation. However, the national mandate for the development of a national Electronic Health Record system requires interoperability to work. This is because one of the major reasons for a national EHR is to reduce medical errors as a result of poor transcription of, or incomplete knowledge of a patient’s medical history. ( drug interactions, allergies, etc.). With an electronic health record in place for every U.S. citizen medical errors due to transcription errors, drug interactions, etc. become considerably less likely particularly when the patient finds themselves ill or injured when away from home. The current state of affairs provides fertile ground for innovation as engineers attempt to meet patient safety, business and government/patient requirements.