Technology in Healthcare: What happens when it fails?

I love technology in healthcare. I cannot wait for the day that physicians and nurses across the continuum carry iPads around and communicate via text message. As I have said before, I do believe that as these technologies become more mainstream in the healthcare world, we will see healthier people.

That being said, I came across a situation the other day that had me left in the dark. Literally.

While the integration of technology seems to be slow in the healthcare world, much of what we do use today is electronic. EMRs, portable computers, electronic IV pumps, wireless heart monitors, ventilators. And the list goes on. The question begs to be asked:

What happens when the lights go out?

When the power goes out, we have backup generators. What if the back up generators fail? (yes, it can happen.)

Most of the tools I listed above have a backup battery life. This is for exactly this situation. The battery life is not long, however. And what about the computers who drain battery fast? What about the medications that are locked by an electronic system? What about the doors that are locked and need a badge to access electronically?

The beautiful thing about this situation is the nurses. Maybe it has something to do with their personalities. When everything fails around them, they rush and stabilize each patient. They don’t hesitate for a minute. They make sure they have back up batteries nearby each crucial electronic device. Once their own patients are safe, they think of neighboring units and offer assistance. They think about what they will do if the batteries fail on the IV pumps that have electronic drip rates (remember back to nursing school how to calculate 50mg/kg/min by a manual clamp).

The lights came back on quickly. Crisis diverted. But the question remains:

Should we be more cautious about integrating technologies into healthcare because of situations like these?

My answer from seeing both sides of the argument: absolutely not. Because when all electronics fail, we still have nurses.

9 Comments on “Technology in Healthcare: What happens when it fails?

  1. Great points. If it can happen, it WILL happen eventually. Safety systems require multiple redundancies to prevent catastrophe. A few bucks for battery backups-Priceless!

  2. It’s good to know the old school way to do things. It’s even more important to understand how the technology actually works and not just how to start, stop or select a different preprogrammed settings.

  3. First, I love the new look of your blog.

    Second, after japan, I would think that you’d want to have a LOT of backup batteries on hand.

  4. The power will always come back on. So will the computers.

    If they don’t, well we got bigger fish to fry than worrying about charting, because the dad-gum Zombie apocalypse has likely started and we’ll be smack dab in the middle of a hospital, which is prime location for ground zero.

    just saying.

    I enjoy the blog!

  5. Pingback: Best In Nursing Blogs: Dead and Injured Kids Edition | Blog on iPod and iPhone

  6. Just like with LVAD Heartmate XVE when batteries fail…you can always manually hand pump.

    Enjoying your blog

  7. And if the problem isn’t just the energy, but the hardware or the sofware? the interfaces, the switchs, the storage, the datacenter, etc, etc.
    If the patient story, the medication, the imagiology and other tests results, etc.., are “locked” in the computers that doesn’t work?

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