It’s been over a year since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In that time, we’ve seen healthcare systems all over the world do everything in their power to contain and mitigate the effects of the virus. Hospitals have stepped up sanitation protocols and converted entire wings, even parking garages, into ICUs. Clinics that had never used computers for anything other than billing were suddenly adopting telehealth workflows. Community testing networks were created from scratch. The list of changes brought about by COVID is nearly endless. The backbone of much of this effort has been medical computers and tablets, without which the COVID response could not have been nearly as quick or effective. 

Infection Control

Even in normal times, preventing the spread of germs on a day-to-day basis is an arduous task for most healthcare facilities. Bacteria and viruses spread easily through the air and on surfaces. As asymptomatic COVID transmission has illustrated, even patients that seem healthy can spread deadly pathogens. Healthcare providers maintain constant vigilance to prevent their patients and staff from spreading potentially debilitating and even fatal diseases to each other. 

Throwing consumer-grade computers into this mix, on top of a once-in-a-century pandemic, is a disaster waiting to happen. For one, most computers are not completely sealed against ingress, meaning their surfaces are impossible to disinfect properly. While the risk of COVID-19 transmission via surface contamination is lower than initially feared, regular daily contact with equipment deployed in COVID Treatment Centers, where large quantities of the virus can settle onto surfaces, only increases that risk. 

COVID-19 primarily spread via aerosols, tiny droplets of saliva, or other bodily fluids that float through the air carrying the virus. With their high-powered cooling fans, consumer-grade computers can blast their aerosols all over the place. Hospitals that rely on consumer-grade systems for their workstations on wheels can wind up inadvertently spreading covid particles around the clinic as they cart their units from room to room. 

Medical computers sidestep this issue entirely. Standard features like antimicrobial housings and touchglass mean medical facilities have one less surface to worry about transmitting COVID-19 or other pathogens. What little germs that can survive on the surface of a medical computer can easily be wiped away and killed with chemical disinfects thanks to the sealed designs of most medical computers. Look for computers with at least an IP-65 ingress protection rating, meaning they are sealed against dust and other liquids.

Reliability in Unprecedented Times

When you’re scrambling to fight a global pandemic, the last thing you need is computer trouble. Unfortunately, with the amount of stress put on computers in busy healthcare facilities, consumer-grade computers have a 15-30% failure rate in medical environments. And that’s when facilities don’t have to contend with a massive influx of COVID patients. 

On top of that, integrating computers meant for the home or office into a medical workflow creates its own headaches. Most thin client and desktop computers need external power to run, meaning they cannot be taken from patient to patient out of the box. Powered carts are heavy and hard to maneuver and often must be taken off the floor for hours to recharge – if staff remembers to charge them. 

Laptops, on the other hand, are portable. However, many laptop models sold nowadays do not have replaceable batteries. Those that do usually only have a single battery, meaning that the computer must be powered down to switch out depleted batteries. Additionally, the laptop’s form factor makes them challenging to mount onto carts, meaning they frequently sustain severe damage from long-distance drops. 

The issues caused by consumer-grade computers could derail a hospital in normal times. During a global pandemic, they could put entire communities in danger. Fortunately, Medical Computers are fit for purpose and can withstand the stresses of even the busiest hospitals as COVID slams them. 

The reality is that consumer-grade computers aren’t designed for 24/7 operation. Medical grade computers are specifically engineered for the rigors of a healthcare setting, using industrial-grade components designed to perform under non-stop operation. They are VESA mountable, meaning they can be securely mounted to carts, preventing them from damage. Additionally, some medical computer models come with hot-swappable batteries, meaning they can keep running even as the batteries are being replaced, making them perfect for non-powered carts.

Medical computers are so reliable that hospitals and clinics that have deployed medical computers through the pandemic have been able to keep their entire fleet of computers running 24/7 through the worst surges without losing a single unit. 

Medical Computers, COVID Testing, and Vaccine Rollouts

Of course, caring for patients actively experiencing COVID symptoms is only one part of the fight against the virus. Since the start of the pandemic, healthcare systems worldwide have had to create and scale-up coronavirus testing networks with unprecedented speed to identify those who have or may spread COVID. Then, as vaccines were developed, they had to ramp up new systems to administer them on a wide scale. At the center of these efforts have been medical computers and tablets.

A successful testing network must process tens of thousands of COVID tests per day in a completely sterile environment. A fanless medical computer is ideally suited for this task. Since they aren’t blasting air around, medical computers can process tests without contaminating the samples or the testing area. Further, because of their antimicrobial housing, they are perfect for use in biologically hazardous environments. The risk of contamination due to mishandled samples is exceedingly low.

In order to maximize the number of patients that could be reached, facilities to administer both vaccines and tests have been set up in a number of unconventional locations. Parking lots, stadiums, college campuses, and even school auditoriums have all been pressed into service for this effort. While such facilities make it easier for patients to get tested or vaccinated, it presents unique challenges regarding patient charting. 

With features like RFID, 2d scanners, and LTE capabilities, medical tablets practically eliminate these issues. A patient can show up to a vaccination or testing site, show a technician a QR code on their phone. The technician then scans it with their tablet, checks the patient in for their appointment, and pulls up their chart through the LTE network. With a few taps of the stylus, the technician can take notes in the patient’s EHR and then administer the test or vaccine within minutes of the patient’s arrival. 

England’s NHS has used medical computers throughout the pandemic and into their vaccine rollout, taking full advantage of the above features. They’ve been able to scan patient bracelets, vaccine vials, and chart all from the same unit, and then wheel it to the next patient.  That’s lifesaving technology in action. 

Final Thoughts

Though the recent successes of the vaccine rollout have given us a light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic is still not over. To find out how you can use medical computers and tablets to help fight COVID-19, contact the experts at Cybernet Manufacturing today