IoT tech: preventing errors in health care

Zebra Technologies

By George Pepes*
Tuesday, 07 August, 2018


IoT tech: preventing errors in health care

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States alone. In fact, more than 250,000 Americans die every year from such oversight.

Potentially fatal medical mistakes range from surgical complications that go unrecognised to mix-ups in medications dispensed to patients. However, because death certificates usually don’t register medical errors, the real number is never tallied, leading to a severe underestimation of the significance of the issue.

In 2010, a Singaporean couple who just had a baby via in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) were shocked when their baby was born with a complexion markedly different from their own and, upon further investigation, it was also found that their daughter’s blood type was also different.

They sought a DNA test and the result confirmed their worst fear: they were victims of a medical mix-up. A stranger’s genetic specimen had been used to fertilise the mother’s eggs. Further investigation uncovered lapses in procedures and human error when the specimens were handled by two embryologists.

Minimising the human mistakes without removing the human touch

While healthcare facilities and practitioners have stringent procedures put in place to avoid similar errors, there is always a slight chance of ‘human error’. In the case of the DNA mix-up, the embryologists deviated from the protocols. Medical-related mistakes are often committed because medical staff suffer from exhaustion from long hours of working round the clock, or are distracted by the multitude of tasks they had to perform simultaneously — factors that are hard to control. It’s clear that the industry needs a fix that is quick and effective, and lightens the load for medical staff.

This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes to the rescue. In health care, IoT builds a world where smart labels such as barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and sensors fixed to objects and linked to the internet give them a digital voice.

Technology and nurses make a better team

Potential applications of the IoT are everywhere in the healthcare environment. Especially with handheld computers that scan barcodes and RFID tags, doctors and nurses can bring care directly to the patient’s bedside. Here are some real-life use cases some countries are exploring to better the quality of patient care:

Medication management: In Australia and other countries across Asia Pacific, nurses have started using mobile computers to scan the patient’s ID wristband when administering treatment or conducting their rounds in the ward. This positive patient identification (PPID) accurately confirms the patient’s name and date of birth, which the medical staff can verify verbally, and looks for the patient’s medical record.

The critical hour: In many critical medical emergencies, time is of the essence. By tagging the patient with a Bluetooth smart wristband, their status and progress can be tracked from the moment they enter the hospital doors to their time in surgery. For instance, the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands has deployed the time-tracking solution for acute myocardial infarction patients. LUMC’s Cardiology Department set up the Door-To-Balloon (DTB) Task Force focused on ischemic time in heart infarction patients.

Wrong blood in the tube: Despite everyone’s best efforts, mistakes happen when taking blood in busy wards. By using mobile computers and printers, these human errors can be avoided. Nurses can use mobile computers to view what tests are needed, scan patients’ wristbands to confirm their ID, be guided through the blood collection process, and print barcode labels using mobile printers that are affixed to the sample.

The healthcare industry faces a myriad of challenges. Doctors and nurses must divide their attention between treating patients and handling administrative matters. With the help of IoT technology, healthcare personnel will be able to drive increased efficiency, render more personalised healthcare and — most importantly — deliver accurate and error-free treatments or medical procedures, carving a new path out of the old way of treating patients.

*George Pepes is Healthcare Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific. For more information, visit https://www.zebra.com/ap/en/solutions/healthcare.html.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/ipopba

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