As the world streaks its way through the 21st century, it has witnessed a high-speed evolution of connectivity via modern technology. Worldwide implementation of the internet blasted open the doors of communication as we knew it and allowed people to connect more easily than ever before. That rapid connectivity boom has also made its way into the world of medical devices, with consumers now tracking and communicating their health statuses to their healthcare providers with smartwatches, sleep trackers and other devices.
However, connectivity progress has been slower with many essential medical devices, including vital sign monitors, ventilators and certain infusion pumps. Infusion pumps, used in the hospital, ambulatory and home care markets, are used to deliver medications or nutrients directly to patients. Looking at these devices in all of their settings, we can better understand how medical device manufacturers and providers alike can take advantage of both real-time and “moment-in-time” connectivity and the data story that these devices can tell us. Whether connected to the internet continuously, connected within a hospital’s network, or acting as standalone pumps, these devices can directly tell us how they can be improved – but we must be listening.
While the goal is for all infusion pumps to be connected so that hospitals and manufacturers can automatically receive and crunch usage data, for now, it is still possible to leverage available data to drive forward medical device innovation to improve patient care.
The State of Infusion Pump Connectivity Today
Many hospital infusion pumps are already connected to the internet, at least within the hospital network. Yet, hospitals and health facilities whose infusion pump fleets can range from 100 to over 500, still need to individually program and manage each pump and analyze the data produced. The manpower required to oversee a fleet of pumps in-use at a hospital is immense, especially when considering that most facilities use multiple infusion pumps from different manufacturers, requiring extra training and logistics to gather and analyze data from different sources. This approach is a hefty burden on resources and manpower for facilities, and as such, does not always take place.
Within ambulatory and homecare settings, infusion pumps remain unconnected. But these devices still gather information on the pump’s use, tracking air, line and occlusion alarms, battery and power issues, hardware issues and efficiency of the pumps, among other data points.
Whether connected or unconnected, all pumps undergo annual maintenance checks, where the pump is connected, serviced, and data logs can be downloaded and analyzed by both hospitals and manufacturers. For manufacturers, this is the only time that they can accumulate relevant data from these devices and better understand pump usage, most used features/functions and other key information.
Iterate and Improve on an Annual Basis
With this annual data download, manufacturers are given a golden opportunity to improve their products. By analyzing the information, manufacturers can begin to take a data-driven approach to product development, making adjustments based on facts rather than anecdotal feedback. Manufacturers can determine which features are necessary and which are not being utilized to their potential. This information helps device makers to create pumps that are catered to their users and address evolving needs.
Erroneous alarms of individual pumps or fleets of pumps can be adjusted. In fact, this was an issue that our team noticed in a hospital located in a higher altitude. The data indicated an increased number of air and line alarms because the hospital’s higher altitude was causing air bubbles to form. With access to the data, we were able to make adjustments for this hospital’s pump fleet to ensure this wouldn’t occur, thereby lowering the number of alarms and improving the efficacy of the pump. Other areas that can be improved upon given the data: hardware, battery/power issues, most commonly used features, and adjusting for common workarounds being used in the field that can make the pump more efficient.
On the clinical side, taking a close look at this data can also provide insights into patient care and practice. For example, a hospital experiencing an abnormally high number of occlusion alarms could indicate that nurses weren’t given appropriate training for opening and closing the clamp of the pump. With this data, the facility can then address personnel training challenges.
Connectivity and The Future of Data-Driven Improvement
An ideal situation for both health facilities and infusion pump manufacturers is for full connectivity capabilities to be implemented within pumps in all care settings. The benefits of doing so are many, the most important of which is the ability to provide better immediate care for patients. If pump malfunctions occur or patient-related issues arise, full connectivity will allow the pump to communicate with a nurse or technician to provide attention immediately. This level of continuous awareness is essential to providing reliable delivery of fluids and medication, keeping patients safe.
Additionally, when devices are continuously connected, healthcare facilities can reduce the maintenance costs of infusion pumps. Manufacturers can have a constant read on the status and performance of each pump, and service them based on need rather than elapsed time. Connected pumps can also track battery life, reporting on battery wear and tear – also saving costs by only replacing batteries when needed. Furthermore, continuous connectivity allows for immediate manufacturer action, which is crucial when addressing erroneous alarms. This data-driven approach leads to faster, more impactful product development, instrumental in the current management and future development of infusion pumps.
All data tells a story. This includes data downloaded once a year and data that can be gathered and analyzed continuously. But, it is up to hospitals, ambulatory and homecare providers and manufacturers to read these stories. By listening to raw data, we can more easily identify problems, big and small, and address them in a more knowledgeable and effective manner, improving patient care and reducing costs in the process.