A Nurse’s Determination to “Do the Sick No Harm” – Achieving Interoperability Inside of the Hospital


Florence Nightingale famously said, “The first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.” However, startling statistics tell us a very different story about the state of patient safety today. According to a recent publication in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical errors are responsible for up to 440,000 deaths a year and are attributed as the third leading cause of death in the United States.

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In March, West Health hosted an IDEA Series panel on the challenges nurses face when working with unconnected, uncoordinated medical technologies. After the event, I had the opportunity to talk with Patricia Folcarelli, RN, PhD, senior director of patient safety at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Pat has dedicated her life’s work to upholding Florence Nightingale’s credo as a nurse, with extensive experience at the intersection of technology and patient care. She has served as both a nurse delivering safe, high-quality care to patients and a hospital administrator, ensuring safety measures are addressed and implemented across her organization.

Our conversation focused on medical device interoperability, the ability to safely share health information across various technologies and systems and how it could change care delivery.

The problem with medical devices today is that each device only holds a fragment of the necessary patient information, according to Patricia. “Each of those pieces of equipment is capturing discrete data points that live in different sections of the medical record, but don’t really piece together the patient’s [state].” As a result, nurses have to manually transcribe these numbers to determine appropriate care paths for their patient. This opens up the door for transcription errors, missed diagnoses and preventable medical errors.

According to the results of our national survey of more than 500 nurses conducted online by Harris Poll, nurses believe medical errors could be reduced if the medical devices hospitals rely on for testing, monitoring and treating patients could seamlessly share information. “It didn’t surprise me in your study that 99 percent of nurses said they use technology. There’s no way to avoid using technology in healthcare,” she said.

What did surprise Patricia was that only 50 percent of nurses said they had witnessed a medical error because of lack of device coordination. “Nurses pride themselves in going above and beyond to piece together the environment…I don’t think they would even recognize how many events could have been prevented by interoperable medical equipment.”

Achieving widespread medical interoperability would mean nurses and physicians could look in one place for all of the information they need. She also agreed there is a huge opportunity to improve patient care by applying predictive intelligence to patient data, calling it a “constellation of data points brought together.”

Patricia’s message to nurses is simple: Be an active participant in the movement toward achieving an interoperable world. “Nurses could be a strong voice…raising awareness in the community of caregivers would really help move this movement forward.”