3 practical uses for the internet of things in EHR systems

As sensor technology becomes more efficient in wearables and EHR systems become more astute in collecting, managing, analyzing and communicating data across settings, the next logical conclusion in the further incorporation of wearables and other monitoring devices in EHR involves the internet of things (IoT).

An obvious and significant preliminary question involves, what is the IoT? According to Gartner Technology, the “IoT is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” One can think of the IoT as a chain of information gathering devices such as a wearable or sensor that communicates with other devices including an EHR.

In the context of patient care, the IoT allows for data collection from a variety of sources on a variety of metrics at unique locations. For example, an EHR can configure into the IoT as the primary data collection point with various devices such as activity trackers, biosensors collecting vitals and scales collecting weight. This data collected from the devices can be combined and analyzed to facilitate patient care. The widespread use of the IoT in EHR remains a long-term goal. However, evidence shows that the IoT has been employed in some settings with promising results.

1. Error reduction

One well-documented use of the IoT in healthcare rests in helping providers avoid transcribing errors that lead to adverse events. In this application, medical devices are linked into a smart network, which includes the EHR. Clinical data is shared across the network electronically thereby reducing the potential for errors related to the manual transcription and sharing of information. A survey of nurses conducted by West Health shows that half of the respondents believe that patient safety errors are very likely to follow the manual transcription of data into a chart. Further half of nurses surveyed have witnessed a patient safety error they directly attribute to a lack of medical device interoperability.

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2. Hand hygiene

Appropriate hand hygiene can significantly reduce the threat of hospital-acquired infections. Even the most well-intentioned staff can neglect this practice as their workload becomes hectic or fatigue creates complacency. An IoT was implemented in 2014, to monitor hand hygiene by OhioHealth, who partnered with IBM to place wireless RFID sensors in hand washing stations and entryways at points of care. The sensors were able to monitor a tagged staff member’s ID badge as they entered and left points of care and also tracked how many times staff visited a handwashing station. OhioHealth reported hand-washing compliance jumped from 70 percent to more than 90 percent at one of the hospital campuses involved in the program. Further, the program has since been modified so that managers can access that data themselves every 15 minutes, to provide in the moment feedback for staff who do not follow hand hygiene protocols.

3. Care monitoring and predictive analytics

Medical devices integrated into the IoT can allow for real-time monitoring of patient data such as vitals thereby enabling providers to track patient status more accurately and thoroughly and react more quickly to potential adverse events.

Much like wearables, configuring IoT in EHR for enhancing care presents equal doses of promise and lingering questions as to whether this technology’s time has arrived. A practical application of the IoT into the larger goal of providing care depends on buy-in from patients and staff who must participate in the use of wearables or other sensors to collect actionable data that can be used for treatment or other interventions.

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Jeff Green

About the author…

Jeff Green, MPH, JD works as a freelance writer and consultant in the Healthcare information Technology Space.

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Jeff Green