Nearly one in four surgical errors stems from failures of medial equipment or technology, according to a recent study published in medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety. With ongoing concerns about the safety of technologies such as surgical robots, such findings continue to underscore the importance of eliminating errors in medical devices.
While it is generally assumed that advancements in medical technology correspond to improvements in medical care, some reservations are warranted, according to a recent study in the August issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. In more than 40 percent of cases, the current clinical practice or technology in use has been shown to be as effective or less effective the one used previously, while it has been found more beneficial in 38 percent of cases. Often, the simple promise of new technology is enough to prompt adoption, despite evidence of success, lead author Dr. Vinay Prasad told the New York Times.
“Devices are particularly bad because they can be approved if they’re similar to ones already on the market,” Prasad said. He gave the example of catheters for monitoring heart function, which are already reliably accurate, pointing out, “We continue to introduce new catheters all the time, lacking good evidence that they work. This is a tremendous waste of resources.”
Increasing surgical success
One of the most highly touted medical technologies in recent years has been robotic surgery. However, concerns about the integrity of the software in these devices and others used in the operating room have persisted, particularly given the sensitive nature of surgery.
The recent study published in BMJ Quality & Safety noted that while new surgical technologies have generally improved patient outcomes, equipment and technology failures remain an obstacle. The researchers noted that they hoped to determine the frequency of such incidents to improve the quality of care. In a systemic review of published literature, the report’s authors found that equipment failures accounted for 23.5 percent of total error. They also noted that the increased use of technology may be increasing the complexity of surgery and adding to the likelihood of failure.
Of the failures studied, 37.3 percent related to equipment availability, 43.4 percent were due to problems with configuration and settings and 33.5 percent were the result of direct malfunctioning. Operations that incorporated more technology were more prone to errors, while those that involved checklists or similar interventions were able to reduce errors by a mean of 48.7 percent.
“Equipment-related failures form a substantial proportion of all error occurring in the OR,” the authors concluded. “Those procedures that rely more heavily on technology may bear a higher proportion of equipment-related error. There is clear benefit in the use of preoperative checklist-based systems. “
As oversight of medical technology continues to increase, the importance of flawlessly coding the embedded software of medical devices will persist as well. Vendors looking to increase patient trust, reduce the frequency of malfunctions and meet FDA standards can benefit from using tools such as static analysis software to catch errors in their code. By more carefully scrutinizing problems during the development phase, medical device manufacturers can help reduce the prevalence of equipment-related surgical errors.
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