Editor’s Notebook: Plug and Play for Patient Safety


July / August 2007

Editor’s Notebook

Plug and Play for Patient Safety

Most of what I hear about interoperability refers to sharing data among information systems. But in late June, I spent 3 days at a joint conference of organizations working on the interoperability of medical devices. This kind of interoperability would include devices that automatically communicate with information systems; devices that could take information from another device and display or use it, for example, to issue a clinical alarm; and even medical devices that could perform clinical interventions based on information received from patient monitors or other devices.

Julian Goldman, MD, set the stage on the first day by describing the “high-level” goal of the conference: to empower healthcare providers with interoperable medical systems, similar to the way that consumers have been empowered by interoperable electronics such as cellphones, digital cameras, and PDAs. Goldman and other speakers emphasized that the solutions must be based on clinical need, not driven by the technology itself, must comply with widely accepted standards, and that the technology must be verified, validated, and certified.

“Improving Patient Safety through Medical Device Interoperability and High Confidence Software” was a collaboration of two communities: High Confidence Medical Devices, Software, and Systems (globally distributed computer scientists from academia and government, led by a group at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering & Applied Science), and the Medical Device Plug and Play (MD PnP) program at the Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology (www.CIMIT.org). The conference drew 141 attendees, including clinicians — especially anesthesiologists and intensivists — and engineers (software, clinical, and biomedical) as well as representatives from academia, industry, and government, with a good number of attendees and speakers from countries outside the United States.

Topics included clinical needs for device interoperability and prospective device solutions, software engineering concepts that are beyond me, forward-thinking concepts such as cyber-physical systems, and a mind-boggling array of acronyms. I was not alone in occasionally feeling lost. However, in this group of experts exchanging ideas across sophisticated professional languages, frequent references to the world of safety and quality improvement reminded everyone of our common purpose: improving patient care.

To learn more about the conference, see http://rtg.cis.upenn.edu/hcmdss07 and www.mdpnp.org, as well as Tim Gee’s blog (www.medicalconnectivity.com). Tim reported on the conference daily and helped wrap it up with a “Report from the Blogosphere.” Coincidentally, I am delighted to welcome Tim as the newest member of PSQH’s Editorial Advisory Board.