Survey Probes Medical Device Clock Synchronization

When millions of Americans turn their clocks back an hour on Nov. 6, it isn’t a big deal if they are off by a minute or two.

But for those healthcare technology management professionals responsible for changing the time on hundreds of medical devices, such a difference could be troublesome, and a new survey seeks to provide a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem.

The issue of synchronization is especially important with the federal push for “meaningful use” of electronic health record technology and the evolving integration of medical devices.

“Medical device clock errors are a pervasive problem that negatively impact the accuracy of time data in electronic medical records and in the reconstruction of clinical events,” said Pratyusha Mattegunta, clinical engineer at the Medical Device Plug-and-Play (MD PnP) Program at the Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology, and Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, MA.

The chief technology officer of the United States asked MD PnP to look into this problem, which stems from no widely adopted standard for medical device time management, according to Julian M. Goldman, MD, the Director of the MD PnP program.

“Many medical devices do not set their clocks using a network time reference, but are typically set manually twice yearly for daylight savings time,” she said. “The absence of automatic clock-setting capabilities in most devices—and the lack of time synchronization among the wide array of different clocks used in a typical operating room or intensive care unit—can result in inaccurate time-stamps on clinical data recorded in the electronic medical record.”

Mattegunta said there are two MD PnP studies: one will measure the number of incorrect time stamps from devices in hospitals, and the other will look at resources for adjusting device clocks to a standard, synchronized time. These studies are being funded by NIH/NIBIB and DoD/TATRC.

The first project will calculate the clock error of devices in the operating rooms, intensive care units, and post anesthesia care units of six or more participating institutions. This is done by comparing the time shown on a timestamp or the device’s screen to an accurate clock.

“We will document clock times from medical devices, wall clocks, and central stations—essentially anything with a clock that might be used to document patient care,” Mattegunta said.

As part of the studies, researchers developed a survey (available here) that was distributed to the healthcare technology management field.

The researchers already analyzed 337 devices at Massachusetts General Hospital earlier this year and found that 11% of their clocks were off by more than 1 hour.

The results will be released once the studies are complete, she added.