Medical Device Interoperability

Medical Device Interoperability

Now that my family has moved into a house we plan to stay in a while, I updated the den with a lot of new home entertainment gadgets. For the most part, everything works well together. But, there are components in the system that just don’t want to be friends, especially when they come from different manufacturers. There are audio and video standards, common practices, and stated compatibilities, but problems still exist. And, as the consumer, when I try to sort out why with one manufacturer, they blame the other and vice versa. When my blu-ray player doesn’t want to output HD audio properly to my receiver, I get frustrated, but I just have to figure out a way around it and nobody gets hurt (unless they invent a method to throttle customer service agents over the phone). But, what if we were talking about a hospital environment?

If you’re not the one being wheeled in, when you enter an operating room you’ll see a lot of duplicate hardware. Multiple displays and computers, various sensors and diagnostic devices to monitor the patient. And, none of it knows what the other devices are doing. If every device could communicate over common protocols, at least some of that hardware could be eliminated. This could cut the cost of the devices and reduces the clutter in an already cramped space. Communication could also improve the techniques by which health care is administered. But, is it possible to verify and validate the safety and efficacy of medical devices if they could be connected to unknown current and future products?

In the current system, the answer is probably “No”. But, if inputs and outputs could be strictly enforced and regulated, as is the case with FDA-regulated medical devices compared to the “wild west” of computer and home theater peripherals, perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult to imagine a future with compatible tools.

The medical device industry has not ignored the potential of device interoperability. In fact, it is a recognized issue. There have been many conference presentations and on the subject, and an FDA held a workshop this past January focused on working out these exact issues. While I don’t expect the solutions to arrive overnight, I do look forward to seeing developments coming down the pipeline.

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