Although still far from achieving mainstream adoption, anesthesia information management systems (AIMS) have made significant strides since the early part of this decade.  My research has found adoption of AIMS in the US at about 8-10% and rising, with 15-25% growth expected over the next few years. These systems have been available for more than two decades, but only recently has the notion of implementing an automated anesthesia record become widespread within the practice of anesthesiology.

It’s no surprise that the most successful AIMS solutions are those that allow the electronic anesthesia record to operate seamlessly with the other information systems installed in the hospital – where the interoperability begins in the operating room and extends as far as the outpatient areas. However, the latest anesthesia report issued by KLAS , entitled The Growing Market for Anesthesia Software:  Liability, Integration and the Benefits of Adoption, has caused a wave of confusion for hospitals and health networks by using the terms “interfacing” and “integration” inaccurately.

“Interfacing” is like saying that my admissions system works with my radiology system through a separately built piece of software to make the two “talk” to each other. But an “integrated” system means that data, such as a patient’s age or allergy that someone puts into my operating room system, automatically appears in my anesthesia system because the information is shared. It might seem like small distinction, but it makes a world of difference for hospitals and health networks looking to run a smoothly functioning and high performance OR.

In reality, clinicians care about having the complete and correct data at the right place and the right time – regardless of what the IT folks might call it. That’s why the event that led to the largest market expansion of AIMS adoption was the availability of the first commercially viable, integrated suite of perioperative automation solutions in 2003. For the first time ever, a hospital could automate the documentation and workflow from the time a patient is scheduled for a procedure, through their recovery in the PACU or ICU.

This is further proven by the user responses to the KLAS survey, which include praise for systems that, in my definition, “integrate” – connect devices and feed critical information like vital signs automatically into the anesthesia system, without the need for middleware. Systems with this kind of capability free physicians so they can take care of their patients.

It’s clear that those AIMS that offer comprehensive interoperability beyond the four walls of the OR and work well in the unique workflow of anesthesia have established themselves as the clear leaders – evidenced by the fact that the market-leading anesthesia system is now in use in more than 200 hospitals.  Every hospital should examine anesthesia as much as every other department to eliminate bad processes that start with paper records, missing info, bad memories and bad handwriting in charts. Physicians are embracing this technology – and the “integrated” technology is ready.

- Carlos M. Nunez, M.D.