The nonprofit safety group ECRI Institute published the latest version of its annual health technology hazards report this week, pointing to cybersecurity attacks, supply chain shortfalls and damaged infusion pumps as three of the biggest dangers.
The report authors note that many of the culprits are new to the list.
“Several of these expand on the key theme from our 2021 list: the need to progress from just trying to cope during the pandemic to building stronger and more resilient processes, leveraging the innovations developed, and the lessons learned along the way,” said researchers.
“Other topics on this year’s list address emerging challenges, under-the-radar issues or persistent hazards that require renewed attention,” they added.
WHY IT MATTERS
The list of dangers reflects urgency rather than frequency, said researchers.
“All the items on our list represent problems that can be avoided or risks that can be minimized through the careful management of technologies,” they noted.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their increased frequency, cybersecurity incidents are number one on the list.
The ECRI report explains that, unique to the healthcare industry, cyber incidents may disrupt patient care in addition to interfering with business operations.
“The question is not whether a given facility will be attacked, but when,” said researchers.
Other hazards concern enduring ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as supply-chain shortfalls, inadequate emergency shortfalls and poor outcomes resulting from telehealth workflow.
“Some facilities and caregivers are now feeling the strain of using programs that were rapidly implemented during a crisis, without time for full consideration of workflow and human factors,” the researchers wrote about the spike in virtual care during the public health crisis.
The report also zeroed in on the use of specific types of medical devices, including damaged infusion pumps, failures to adhere to syringe pump best practices and poor duodenoscope reprocessing.
The ECRI report points out that these risks aren’t limited to patients. Healthcare workers too face potential harm.
“A 2021 ECRI survey of healthcare workers who routinely perform duodenoscope reprocessing – that is, cleaning and disinfection (or sterilization) – identified several significant patient and worker safety hazards,” it said.
Researchers also zeroed in on artificial intelligence-based reconstruction, which they said has potential instabilities and limitations. They also drew attention to potential product selection errors and manufacturing flaws for medical protective gowns.
Finally, they raised the alarm about WiFi dropouts and “dead zones,” potentially catastrophic for patient services in increasingly connected settings.
“Wireless communication failures or unreliable connections can lead to workarounds that circumvent a system’s safety features,” they wrote.
“They can also interrupt workflow, delaying patient care. They can even cause serious injury or death – for example, if critical alerts are not received,” they continued.
THE LARGER TREND
The report is the 15th of its kind from ECRI, which in the past has tried to keep stakeholders apprised of the potential hazards of electronic health record errors, alert fatigue and diagnostic stewardship.
Cybersecurity has also been a recurrent concern, with the organization sounding the alarm on vulnerabilities back in 2018.
“Attacks can render devices or systems inoperative, degrade their performance, or expose or compromise the data they hold, all of which can severely hinder the delivery of patient care and put patients at risk,” said report authors that year.
ON THE RECORD
“The safe use of health technology – from simple devices to complex information systems – requires identifying possible sources of danger or difficulty with those technologies and taking steps to minimize the likelihood that adverse events will occur,” said ECRI researchers. “This list will help healthcare facilities do that.”