Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Human Factors Issues in Remote Monitoring and Remote Programming

Series Overview and Background
Human factors issues related to remote monitoring and remote programming (remote patient care) will predominate in my postings over the next several months.  If I learned anything while working at St. Jude Medical, I learned the value of human factors engineering in relationship to remote monitoring systems.  Before I discuss what I learned, I want cover a few issues regarding remote patient care.

If you talk to a device clinic clinician, that person will have few difficulties in communicating to you the value of remote monitoring technology.  I heard stories from cardiologists that before remote monitoring technology was in place that device nurses would have to telephone device patients.  The emotional strain on the nurses was so great that device nurses would burn-out in two years.  

Remote monitoring provides a service to patients and their caregivers.  Most patients do not want to come to the device clinic and caregivers would rather that they did not.  Remote monitoring lengthens the time between clinic appointments.  Furthermore, remote monitoring can detect signs of potential problems much earlier than a visit to the clinic.  Remote monitoring can keep patients out of emergency rooms and can provide patients with a better quality of life.  Finally, remote monitoring can lower the cost of care while improving it.

Among the medical trail blazers, there is an interest in remote programming.  The ability to remotely make changes in the operation of a medical device could enable caregivers to be more proactive and provide patients with care where ever they are located, rather than just in the clinic.  This capability significantly lowers barriers and limitations on patients and their caregivers.  Patients can lead more free and independent lives and less tethered to clinic appointments.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  Remote patient care technology does provide the underlayment, the enabling capability.  However, remote patient care system cannot be limited to the technology.  From my perspective working at St. Jude Medical, roles of caregivers and patients have been under valued, misunderstood or neglected in the development of systems to provide remote patient care.  I cannot speak for other medical device manufacturers.  I can say, because this is public information, that St. Jude Medical's remote monitoring system has come under fire because of issues related specifically to the performance and design of the user interface of their remote monitoring system.  

I am not singling-out St. Jude Medical regarding the design and implementation of their remote monitoring system.  St. Jude Medical implemented a beneficial and desired medical system.  However, it appears that they failed to understand two essential elements who are just as essential to the remote care system as the hardware and software.  Thus the current state of St. Jude Medical's remote monitoring system serves as a starting point for the articles that will follow this one.

My next two articles will focus on the new AAMI/ANSI standard HE75 due to be officially released in April 2010.  I cannot quote from the document at this time, however, I can say that HE75 is founded on the basic foundations of human factors. Thus, from that standpoint, there is nothing new about what is contained in HE75. I know several people on the HE75 committee and I can say that they are consumate human factors professionals, and dedicated to the profession. 

I can also say that should the FDA adopt this document (and all expectations are that the FDA will adopt it), the relatively lax approach that FDA approach to usability and human factors will come to an end.  There is a massive body of literature that documents the massive number of injuries and deaths from medical errors, and some of those medical errors can be traced back to poor device designs.  It may well be that the FDA will believe that it is time to "crack down" on poorly designed medical system user interfaces.  Furthermore, medical systems are becoming increasingly more powerful and complicated, thus the capability to do injury to patient will increase.  Thus, the need to insure that medical devices and their user interfaces will meet specific and unambiguous performance standards before being approved by the FDA.

I plan to focus specifically on medical devices related to remote patient care in this blog.  However, I may stray from time to time when there is something that seems particularly relevant or interesting.

I shall not discuss anything regarding future St. Jude Medical products or services in this blog.  However, I can discuss some of the issues I faced in general terms to illustrate points.  I suspect that the experiences I relate will resonate with others.

Next time: Human factors in the research and development of medical devices.

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