Top health tech hazards include missed alarms, dirty devices

Medical Alert

Photo credit: Getty/Johannes Gerhardus Swanepoel

Mismanagement of medical device software could leave such technology vulnerable to cyberattacks or downtime, putting patients at risk, according to the ECRI Institute.

The issue is one of 10 included on ECRI’s latest top health technology hazards list for 2017. Listed at No. 6, ECRI says management gaps could cause delays in identifying necessary updates, “including those that address safety concerns.”

Infusion pump errors due to overlooked safety steps topped ECRI’s list, with the organization saying that it continues to hear about instances of medical staff “unknowingly defeating” safety mechanisms in place or incorrectly programming such devices. The report notes that new “advanced safety features” of such tools have led to “implicit trust.”

"Technology safety can often be overlooked when hospital leaders are dealing with so many other issues," David Jamison, executive director of ECRI’s health devices group, says in a statement about the results. "As an independent medical device testing laboratory and investigator of technology-related incidents, we know what can go wrong and what steps hospitals can take to reduce patient harm related to specific technologies and processes."

Other hazards highlighted on ECRI’s list include:

  • Poor cleaning of reusable instruments, such as duodenoscopes, endoscopes and arthroscopic shavers (No. 2)
  • Missed ventilator alarms caused by alarm fatigue or notification failures (No. 3)
  • Occupational radiation hazards in hybrid operating rooms (No. 7)

Inadequate cleaning of medical devices topped ECRI’s list of health technology hazards last year. Alarm fatigue ranked second in 2016, and prior to that was No. 1 for four consecutive years.

“All the items on our list represent problems that can be avoided or risks that can be minimized through the careful management of technologies,” the report’s authors note.