medical computer systems

3 Ways Healthcare Usage Dramatically Impacts Hardware Longevity

It’s important for medical computers to operate 24/7 since healthcare is just as demanding. Internal components do not last forever, unfortunately, and demanding uptime for computers can seriously affect the longevity of hardware. According to an analysis by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, The FDA issued almost six thousand recalls to hardware between 2006 and 2011, with approximately 1,200 of the recalls from computer-related failures. A vast majority of those recalls affected patient health. This study alone outlines a problem that hospitals face with computer-related failures and how those have affected patients—injury or worse. The FDA monitors reports of malfunctions and other problems after their approved hardware goes into the field in order to make adjustments to their regulations, but it’s an ongoing, never-perfect process. The best that can be done with post-fielding is ensuring stricter regulations on hardware, but that doesn’t guarantee that a hospital will utilize an FDA-approved piece of hardware to monitor patient health or control a medical device. The best way to minimize adverse events and malfunctions from a computer hardware standpoint is to ensure all components in a hospital’s set of medical computer systems are used with healthcare in mind. Here’s what we mean in detail below.

Medical Computer Systems Benefit from Solid State Drives

The unseen infection is terrible for hospitals and can result in nosocomial infections, so hospitals must take all precautions possible to ward away those infections. One such precaution has to do with patient data storage. Standard platter hard drives cause problems in hospitals by circulating dust mites and airborne germs throughout the air with their moving parts. A lot of consumer-grade computers only come with one hard drive without a backup solution, so if hospitals store their patient data on a regular hard drive without redundancy or backup, that’s a risky situation from data loss and HIPAA violation standpoints. Standard platter hard drives last (according to some sources) four years on average, but that’s with standard use, not constant. A lot of medical computer systems use solid state drives that, on average, last several years longer than older hard drive technology. Why? Fewer moving parts and less dust. Typically in a sealed plastic enclosure, solid state drives in embedded PCs alleviate a hardware component’s greatest threat—dust—and don’t use moving parts to read data. Solid state drives are put to the test from manufacturing plants via rigorous read/write tests and hold up against older technology. That’s why it’s crucial to select the best components to ensure the longevity of life for a medical panel PC and to protect patient data. Plus, medical computer systems often use solid state drives in pairs for redundancy and backup, ensuring nothing is lost when a hard drive failure occurs. Use of paired solid state drives combat three problems in one—spreading of airborne illnesses and dust, better longevity because of no moving parts, and patient information backup with a second drive.

Heat in a Medical Computer System is a Terrible Component Killer

Since EMR systems receive constant software updates, it’s important to get powerful hardware (intel i7s) and strong video capability to run and view the demanding software. However, pulling a consumer-grade PC off the shelf to run as a mobile EMR system won’t operate well. Let’s say a new computer runs an intel Coffee Lake i7 8700k with 32 gigabytes of RAM and an NVIDIA GTX 1090. Great! This system is capable of running the latest software at blazing speeds. However, what’s not addressed is the power of the CPU and components. The CPU on a consumer-grade processor pulls more power, which means more heat. Without a way to dissipate heat, the processor and surrounding components can easily overheat and melt. Fans are necessary for running components at high wattage, but they are also thought of as points of failure. If a fan fails, the computer in question fails—that’s it. That’s specifically why many healthcare facilities choose to deploy fanless medical computers  which run components at much lower power ratings, usually 35 watts for the processor alone. Less power means less heat, which means higher longevity and no fans. No fans mean no dust, which means even higher longevity for computer components and less risk for patient health.

A Medical Computer System Uses Higher-Grade Components

The MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) is considered a defining standard for hardware reliability with two “branching” standards—the Department of Defense standard and the Bellcore/Telcordia Predictive Method, the former of the two being more recognized. Consumer-grade computers by some reports have a 2-year MTBF, and it’s likely that the lifespan of such a computer may be cut short if used in a demanding environment like a hospital. If a computer needs to operate 24/7, it’s far too demanding for a consumer-grade computer to handle. Constant heat, ceaseless running fans, and excessive power draw (adding expenses to an already skyrocketing energy bill for a hospital) will guarantee a shorter lifespan than a medical computer system which is built for 24/7 operation. This lower MTBF is also on a component-based level; consumer PC manufacturers don’t use high grade discrete components (diodes, resistors, transistors, etc.) that meet the reliability standard found in medical computer systems. The lifespans for medical computer systems on the market today span typically 3-5 years.

Heat, dust, power, lower-grade components with moving parts, and other factors clearly all point to less reliability and lower longevity when using a consumer grade computer as a medical computer system. Dust is a huge internal component hazard, so it’s best to have a sealed system that doesn’t ingest it. Heat is another gigantic factor in system longevity, so keeping components operating at lower wattage ratings will increase their longevity—also removing the need for fans. Medical computers with higher-quality, military-grade components will always outlast consumer-grade computers on average, ensuring medical professionals can get the job done while avoiding computer hazards to the patient.

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