Playing Nice with Your Hospital’s IT Team to Support Top Patient Care
By Dave Francoeur
When I started in this business, very few pieces of medical equipment relied on the hospital’s technological infrastructure, meaning the only cords coming out of a device were plugged into power sockets. Thirty-five years later, we see the reverse: Devices without an digital interface fall in the minority.
As medical equipment evolves and becomes more complex, your Healthcare Technology Management team needs to proactively raise awareness on its roles and responsibilities – and define those that remain in the scope of your Information Technology (IT) teams. But as those lines continue to blur, collaboration between the two teams, which often report up through different channels, has never been more critical to delivering on quality patient care missions.
On paper, it’s pretty easy to distinguish between the two roles, but it becomes more challenging when you look at a modern piece of medical technology. When you put those two different functions together, you get interoperability or interconnectivity; both the device and its connections need to be working for that equipment to work optimally, not to mention for the hospital to maximize on its efficiencies.
In straightforward terms, HTM takes care of the machines that providers use in patient diagnostics and care: Our TKA teams ensure that medical equipment is working as designed, sanitized and ready to use. IT ensures the hospital’s infrastructure and computers are operating, so a device that relies on internet connectivity to capture and report patient data is doing just that.
But what really happens when a device stops working?
Which team has the responsibility to fix this particular problem? Is it a hardware problem (the device itself)? A software problem (applications aren’t working)? An interconnectivity problem? Even a user error?
Our direct support of the hospital’s delivery of life-or-death care means our biomeds often get the initial call when a device goes down. That makes us a version of first responders who run triage to start identifying the equipment problem; if we determine it’s an IT issue, we’ll hand over the issue to that team to resolve. However, we always remain available to provide related support until the issue is closed.
Intersection Creates Cybersecurity Risks
With the rising threat of cybersecurity within healthcare (a 21% increase in ransomware attacks in the first four months of 2021 alone, hospital leaders are making data security an important part of their crisis preparation. Last year, 70% of hospitals reported a “significant security incident,” with most related to business functions – hought still leading to financial losses as well.
But there’s always the potential of risk to the patient.
Let’s walk through a scenario, so you can see how this could play out in the real world. A patient is recovering in a bed with the capability to measure the individual’s weight, and that information is fed into a computer and reported to the doctor and pharmacist to determine the appropriate medication dosage. That information then is transmitted to an infusion pump, which is programmed to deliver a specific medication. All of that data is documented in the patient record and ultimately relayed to billing as another data point to ensure the patient is billed properly for the right medication and right dosage.
What if an unauthorized user tapped in to change the patient weight? To change the medication or dosage? To increase the bill?
Cybersecurity protocols aim to reduce the risk of hackers getting into hospital systems through any channels – including perhaps innocent-looking bedside patient devices – and accessing information they don’t have a right to have. Creating an ecosystem that holds cybersecurity risk at bay starts with increasing the effectiveness of how your HTM and IT teams work together.
Building Collaborative Relationships for Good
From my perspective, as most medical devices today are integrated with the hospital’s computing resources in some form or fashion, a good working relationship between HTM and IT can both supersede and alleviate potential risks from gaps in service to missed opportunities to better support the hospital’s commitment to every patient. Let’s look at how to influence collaboration:
- Inventory equipment to identify potential risks. Conduct a joint assessment to determine which devices might be targets for hackers, determine what information could be accessed and assign a risk level. We have to work together to prevent risk and mitigate issues if a breach ever occurs. One great resource we recommend is a blockchain solution, where a hospital is continuing taking a snapshot of its information; if an issue is identified, the facility can reset its infrastructure back to the last safe data point and reduce risks of information being held hostage.
- Keep lines of communication open. Ask your HTM and IT directors to take time to understand their counterpart’s world and what drives their department’s success each day. Once each has insight into the other’s perspective, that gives them a better framework to build on and improve each step.
- Understand each function’s deliverables. Define who has responsibility for what, and, in that process, look for similarities and differencies in how each area works. From there, strive to develop ways to operate with consistent practices so that there is a shared platform when issues pop up in the grey space between the two functions.
- Align on shared mission. When a machine is out of service – whether it’s something for a biomed or IT crew to fix – a patient might not be getting the best care. Each call has the potential to be life or death, so there needs to be shared urgency. Work together to develop effective ways to response and not let anything fall in the cracks between the two functions.
Don’t Wait to Get Started
When a device is out of service, the biggest risk is always about whether a hospital is delivering on its mission of the highest-quality patient care, but there are downstream impacts of lost revenue. Because the growing threat of cybersecurity creates exponentially higher levels of exposures and financial costs, the closer that your HTM and IT nurture collaboration across their closely related roles, the better positioned your healthcare system will be positioned if a threat surfaces. Contact our team to find out how we can enhance your patient technology ecosystem.
Dave Francoeur is TKA’s senior vice president for marketing and sales.
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