Making medical devices to talk to each other – and to doctors

Although there has been much discussion about sharing electronic health records, information from home wearable devices is not shared with outpatients clinics or hospitals so doctors never get a full picture of a patient’s condition.

A recent commentary by doctors writing in the influential Journal of the American Medical Association, has argued that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which gives approval to new medical devices, needs to do much more to promote the interoperability of monitoring and diagnostic devices as part of the approval process.

The team from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia University and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggest the creation of a new FDA digital health advisory committee and point out that every smartphone can connect to any WiFi network, and work across different carriers and product generations despite the involvement of multiple vendors. Similarly, interoperability standards in other industries mean that keyboards, web cameras and headphones function out of the box, without extra software downloads, on almost all computers.

In intensive care units, networked ventilators, blood oxygen heart and respiratory could provide instant targeted alerts to a clinician’s smartphone to warn of a rapidly deteriorating patient, a task currently requiring a clinician at the bedside. Networked devices could also measure weight and urine output, while making it easier to collect data in the community could make development of new devices much cheaper.

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