Alarms, CT scanners and infusion pumps top 10 most hazardous health tech list

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | November 10, 2011
A patient's monitor alarm getting ignored, the overuse of CT scans and faulty infusion pumps topped a new list of the 10 greatest health care technology hazards.

Every year, health care research nonprofit ECRI Institute compiles a list of the most pressing medical technology troubles, along with some advice to ensure your institution is better prepared to face them.

This year's Top 10 Health Technology Hazards for 2012 list includes some familiar woes (inappropriate CT scans, alarm hazards, sharps injuries), showing the tenacity of some problems. But it also highlights growing hazards, including hard-to-use home medical devices, an emerging threat as the American population gets older and requires more assistance at home.

Some concerns, like defibrillator failures, #10 last year, have fallen off the list. ECRI said a public workshop with the Food and Drug Administration at the end of last year helped address defibrillator issues, and while it's still a problem, other serious topics were included because they're being overlooked.

"Even though the defibrillator topic is not on the list for 2012 we still think it’s an important issue for health care organizations to pay attention to," James P. Keller, Jr., ECRI Institute vice president of health technology evaluation and safety, told DOTmed News by e-mail. "But it was replaced by topics like poor usability of home care devices because the new items were judged to be more critical concerns and in our opinion are not high enough priorities for many hospitals."

Here are this year's top hazards:

10. Perplexing home-use devices

New to the list this year is an especially timely hazard: home-use devices, such as feeding pumps and ventilators, that can be devilishly tricky for patients to actually use. About 7.6 million people use medical devices at home, according to a Food and Drug Administration report from last year. As America's population ages -- the FDA said in 20 years, more than 72 million Americans will be over age 65 -- more people will rely on these devices, as providing services at home, such as ventilator-assistance, is several times cheaper than at the hospital. The only problem is that devices used at home can be too confusing for a layperson to use. Instructions might be missing or written in impenetrable, technical prose, and the products will be vulnerable to power outages or interference by curious pets and children -- dangers that are, generally, absent in the hospital setting. The FDA says from 1997 to 2009, it received 19,000 reports of adverse events from "home." True, it's not always clear what caused these mishaps, but they can be serious -- the agency said in one case, a woman had to visit the emergency room to treat burns on her chest caused by electrodes from a mail-order cardiac monitor.

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