IT and Clinical Engineering Convergence – Why Now? How?

By Tim Needham, Executive Director, Healthcare Solutions Delivery Practice, Burwood Group
Twitter: @burwoodgroup
Twitter: @TimNeedham2

Medical device and biomedical/clinical engineering (CE) teams are relying more and more on their provider’s IT infrastructure department to perform job duties. For example, technology advances have led to new integration opportunities like feeding live patient monitoring data into the EMR and creating multi-platform clinical communication systems.

This crossover between traditionally siloed teams suggests that a defined convergence strategy would create even more visibility into outcome improvement. As health system executives rethink strategies for leveraging IT convergence to improve outcomes, key questions such as these are rising to the surface:

  • What are the risks in maintaining separate IT and CE strategies and departments?
  • What are the opportunities and risks in formal integration of IT and CE departments?
  • If the decision is made to support departmental integration, what are the key organizational and development needs to support financial and clinical outcomes? Is the health system prepared to handle regulatory implications?

Convergence, which is the migration of medical and IT devices onto a single network infrastructure, helps align IT infrastructure and CE strategic plans that leverage project management resources and ensures correct prioritization of resources to support clinical team needs. For example, joint strategic plans would reduce the likelihood that new implementations (computing or medical technology) negatively affect the performance of existing systems. It can also result in cost savings and less complex implementations.

Why now? One driving factor for convergence is an increased dependency of medical devices on IP-based networks, especially with the emergence of wireless patient monitors and a growing occurrence of patient monitoring data feeding directly into the EMR. Also looming large on the minds of both IT and CE teams is data and device security, with the most notable coming in the form of an FDA warning regarding Hospira LifeCare infusion pumps.

Addressing the need for guidance when integrating medical devices into dynamic IT environments, the International Electrotechnical Commission also established IEC 80001-1, a framework on which health systems can base their risk management approach. In addition, in response to today’s security breaches and growing threats from hackers, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) published AAMI TIR57, which provides principles for medical device security and risk management.

IT and CE convergence supports increased awareness and overall experience within an IT organization of general medical device connectivity concerns. The unique skillsets of both departments, for instance Biomedical engineers and IT engineers, must be fully leveraged for a successful convergence.

This article was originally published on the Burwood Group Blog and is republished here with permission.