Problems With Telemetry Monitoring Systems

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The purchaser of telemetry monitoring systems for operating and recovery rooms has little information available on the practical aspects of ownership and usage. To explore this problem, we recorded 76 telemetry failures (both operator and machine failure) occurring over six months among 18 telemetry channels located in operating and recovery rooms. We experienced approximately one telemetry failure every three days or every 60 surgical procedures. Factory repairs were required on 29 transmitters and 19 receivers during a two-year period. We observed that 28% of the failures were attributable to lead and electrode problems, 25% to battery depletion, 22% to mechanical or electronic component failures, 12% to inappropriate control settings and frequency mismatching, and 13% to miscellaneous difficulties.

The following problems were observed. Transmitters were dropped frequently and occasionally immersed in liquids. Thus, waterproofing is recommended for OR use, and lead-failure warning circuitry is mandatory. Inappropriate control settings and frequency mismatching led to a previously unrecognized hazard: that is, it is possible to receive and display ECG data from the wrong patient located in a distant room. (Stethoscopic monitoring can be used to confirm that the data being displayed are from the correct patient.) Battery failure can occur at inopportune times, e.g., during cardiac arrest. Transmitters are frequently “lost” because of their small size and high mobility.

This study indicated to us that, in the operating room, telemetry is not desirable because of its high cost compared to hard wired systems, poor reliability, and the possible hazard of displaying data from the wrong patient if improperly used.

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