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JAMA Study: the Aftermath

July 25, 2008
by kate
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It’s been exactly one month since JAMA released a study examining the potential impact of RFID interference on medical equipment. The research, entitled “Electromagnetic Interference from Radio Frequency Identification Inducing Potentially Hazardous Incidents in Critical Care Medical Equipment,” concluded that “In a controlled nonclinical setting, RFID induced potentially hazardous incidents in medical devices. Implementation of RFID in the critical care environment should require on-site EMI tests and updates of international standards.”

It was, no doubt, big news. And if I didn’t know just from reading the study, I’d know from the countless e-mails from vendors that flooded my in-box in the ensuing days and weeks. Company after company scrambled to clear its products’ name (or discount the study), while vendors whose systems use infrared and sonic waves basked in the news.

In the midst of all the information being tossed around is an underlying theme: whether this incident applies to your hospital or not, we know that some of the technologies being used in hospitals are hazardous. It may not be something we want to think about it, but it’s an issue we cannot and should not ignore. And it raises some valid questions: How do we really know when to move forward with a technology? How much clearance is enough?

Is a study like the one featured in JAMA enough motivation to pull the plug on an implementation that is already in progress — or worse, already completed? Or do CIOs wait until further action such as government regulations or mandates are established?

It seems like this is one of those times where good leadership can make all the difference, and where having a CIO or CTO who can cut through the muck and make the best decision for the health system — even if that means killing a go-live — is extremely valuable.

When I interviewed St. Vincent’s Health System CIO Tim Stettheimer a few weeks ago, he said something that really resonated with me: “One of the realities that we deal with is that medicine is not so much of a science as an art.”

And when science fails, maybe art needs to step in. Every CIO I’ve ever spoken to, including Stettheimer, seem to possess a variety of skill sets in addition to technical abilities. And maybe one of these critical skills is being able to clear the canvas and start again in the wake of an IT disaster.

If you are a CIO who has experienced this type of situation, please contact me. I’d really like to hear about how you weathered the storm and what advice you can pass along to others.

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