What is the difference between “healthcare grade” and “medical grade,” and what problems might arise if one is chosen over another? It seems like such a small thing. What’s in a word? A lot, when you break it down. The distinction between healthcare grade and medical grade computers is important, and here’s why: medical grade suggests a higher standard for a healthcare setting.
Computer systems that are marketed as medical grade are less problematic because they’re more feature-rich than healthcare grade. For instance, is a healthcare grade computer housed in an antimicrobial casing? Does this healthcare grade computer protect against infection, ingress, and the spread of disease? Has it been tested for radiation and electric emissions for near patient use? By the end of this blog, you will be equipped with the knowledge to know what questions you need to ask, and how to verify the validity of a vendor’s response.
The IEC60601-1 Certification – Get Tested
To be truly medical grade, a computer must meet IEC 60601-1 certification. More than just an alphanumerical string, IEC60601-1 is a necessary standard that protects the lives of patients. It details a number of separate sub-standards to protect patients from electric shock, radiation, machine interference (pinching), and other hazards. Some manufacturers may tout the expansive standard, but what they don’t reveal is their product meets only one sub-standard instead of the entire spectrum of standards within IEC60601-1. So if a corporation touts its new computer as IEC60601-1 compliant, be sure to investigate what that means.
True medical grade computers have certifications for the entire spectrum of standards for IEC60601-1 and you can easily verify the testing by asking a manufacturer for their certification. This isn’t a short document either. True 60601-1 certification documents are extensive. It’s also important to check the year of the standard—if a computer is certified for the IEC60601-1 standard that was defined several years ago, it may be best to find a product with a more recent certification.
Don’t be fooled by the term compliant vs. certified either. The most accepted definitions of these terms: compliance means the specifications of a product simply meet a standard. Certification means the product passed a set of rigorous, difficult tests and is a step above compliance, earning the tested product a certificate or label. The problem with compliance is that any corporation can self-claim their product is compliant with almost anything. Unless an independent 3rd party testing facility has verified that a computer meets all specifications it isn’t 60601-1 certified.
Fanless Designs, IP65, & Antimicrobial Technology
True medical grade computers not only meet rigorous standards but are feature-rich and better equipped to solve a wider range of problems that can arise in a hospital. Healthcare-Acquired Infections (HAIs) are still prevalent pests within hospital doors, and computers with more robust features perform better in terms of safety for everyone. Were you aware that HAIs can spread through a computer’s fan? Dust is more hazardous than we realize in hospitals and one lone dust fragment can turn infectious to any patient. Fanless medical computers are built to protect the patient (and staff!) by reducing airborne particle spread—something required for clean room operation.
Given the need for constant disinfection, IP65 ratings are also extremely important. Would you rather settle for a computer that protects from limited dust ingress and liquid sprays (IP54) or a computer that is protected against total dust ingress and more powerful liquid sprays (IP65)? Exposed bezels aren’t just breeding grounds for bacteria, but they can be ingress points for chemical disinfectants, which can lead to damage of internal components. Its important for a computer to have an IP65 rating, especially in a hospital setting, so units can be properly cleaned and disinfected.
Which brings us to antimicrobial technology. Some “healthcare edition” computers don’t even offer antimicrobial properties. The models that do aren’t all created equally. Because hospital disinfectants are so powerful, it isn’t uncommon for computers treated with an antimicrobial coating to degrade over time. In addition to cleaning a unit, these disinfectants can strip away the antimicrobial coating as well. You should look for a computer that has antimicrobial properties injected directly into the plastic molding and has been independently tested to maintain those properties over several thousand cleanings.
How Long of a Product Life Cycle?
What’s the life cycle of the computer in question? The best medical grade all in one systems on the market have a product cycle of 3 to 5 years—significantly longer than commercial-grade brand computers which average about 1.5 years. Project deployment for these systems can sometimes take years as hospital departments shed older computers and implement new ones over time. What if the purchased product isn’t available in that timespan? Will you be ready to face the potential pitfalls of mixing hardware within a computer project deployment?
We’ve heard of problems arising from mixing hardware in a deployment in the past. Even small configurations—changing a video card, altering the aspect ratio of a monitor, or even reducing the number of ports on a computer—can drastically change how mobile EMR software operates for the end-user. Differences in support, operating systems, and driver conflicts can sometimes be nasty roadblocks for interoperability if your hospital has a mixed project deployment. The best practices for a hospital are to purchase an identical set of computers for their entire project timeline, and that means ensuring the product life cycle is more extensive than the competition.
We hope these questions serve as a basis for understanding what’s on the market and how important it is to be armed with the knowledge necessary to ask the right questions. The best computers in a hospital setting are true medical grade all in one systems because of their superior features that safeguard the lives of a hospital’s entire population, whether patient or practitioner. Contact us to learn more.