Top 10 Tech Health Hazards for 2018 Released

Megan Brooks

November 07, 2017

Ransomware and other cybersecurity threats to healthcare delivery that can endanger patients are the top health technology hazard for 2018, according to the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit research organization.

In the healthcare environment, ransomware and other types of malware attacks are more than just an information technology (IT) nightmare, the ECRI notes. "They are potential patient safety crises that can disrupt healthcare delivery operations, placing patients at risk. Multiple ransomware and other malware variants have infected healthcare organizations, as well as other private and public organizations, throughout the world."

"Safeguarding against malware attacks requires a proactive approach involving senior management, clinical engineering, IT, and other individuals throughout the organization," the ECRI says in its report.

Produced annually by ECRI's Health Devices Group, the list identifies potential sources of danger that ECRI believes warrant the greatest attention for the coming year. The list is accompanied by practical strategies hospitals and health providers can take to reduce the risks.

Endoscope reprocessing failures remain in the number 2 spot this year, as healthcare facilities continue to struggle with consistently and effectively cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing these instruments between uses. Failure to reprocess these reusable instruments properly has led to the spread of deadly infections. Some version of this topic has been included in eight of the 10 previous ECRI lists of top health technology hazards.

ECRI provides detailed recommendations to achieve more reliable and effective endoscope reprocessing including establishing processes for assessing the quality of the cleaning step — for example, through magnification-aided visual inspections and the use of biochemical testing — and implementing measures to dry endoscope channels after reprocessing.

Taking the number 3 spot on the ECRI's 2018 list of health technology hazards is the threat posed by body fluids and microbiological contaminants lingering on mattresses and bed covers after cleaning, putting patients and staff at risk.

"To safeguard against this hazard, companies that sell or rent mattress covers must recommend cleaning and disinfecting materials and procedures that will successfully remove the likely contaminants without compromising the cover's integrity (i.e., creating weak spots that could allow leaks). Unfortunately, this is not always the case," ECRI advises. "For their part, healthcare facilities should use appropriate materials and procedures for cleaning and disinfecting mattress covers and should regularly inspect mattresses and mattress covers for signs of damage or contamination."

Coming in at number 4 on the list is missed alarms, which may result from inappropriately configured secondary notification devices. "Delayed or failed delivery of a critical alarm or alert can lead to missed alarm conditions, delayed care, and avoidable patient harm," ECRI notes. Avoiding this problem requires care during system configuration, verification and validation during implementation, and periodic assessments of system integrity during use.

Number 5 on the list is improper cleaning of medical devices and other equipment using incompatible cleaning agents or unapproved cleaning methods, which may lead to device damage or malfunction, equipment failure, and the potential for patient harm. "The need to stock and use multiple cleaning products, along with the requirement to familiarize staff with device-specific cleaning methods, is a significant burden for hospitals. Nevertheless, the risk of harm to patients and staff, and the often substantial costs to replace damaged devices, outweighs the challenge of implementing safe and correct cleaning," ECRI notes.

And the Rest

Rounding out the top 10 technology hazards ECRI wants hospitals and providers to tackle in the coming year are:

6. Unholstered electrosurgical unit active-electrode pencils, which can lead to patient burns

7. Inadequate use of digital imaging tools, which may lead to unnecessary radiation exposure

8. Workarounds to bar-coded medication administration systems, which can negate the safety advantages of these systems

9. Flaws in medical device networking, which can lead to delayed or inappropriate care

10.  Slow adoption of safer enteral feeding connectors leaving patients at risk

More information about the ECRI ranking is available on the group's website.

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