On paper, medical computers are the perfect fit for the medical space. “Medical” is in the name, after all. Of course, there’s more to medical-grade hardware than some simple naming and branding. Optimized to function in the hospital setting, these devices, whether they be manufactured in the form of a desktop PC or medical tablet, are packed with certifications, functionalities, and customizations that make them fit for the healthcare sector and healthcare sector alone. But, how do you know if you’re picking the right medical technology for your particular hospital? Well, to begin, understanding what is required in a hospital setting is paramount.

Understanding the Hospital Environment

Since medical computers and devices operate with patient care in mind, careful consideration of a device’s build, materials, controlling software, and other factors must pass FDA regulations and meet necessary standards. Plus, medical care is not just a “part time” task. Hospitals operate on a round-the-clock schedule—a health-related disaster can strike at a moment’s notice, especially within an intensive care unit. These specific reasons why medical computers and devices are unique to the hospital environment are examined in detail here.

Medical Grade Computers Need to Meet Standards

Understanding the hospital environment means more than simply knowing what procedures go on within your facility, it also means understanding what certifications your equipment needs in order to properly ensure the safety of your patients. Truthfully, lot of consumer off-the-shelf products, both hardware and software, aren’t safe for patient and medical use. Consider the implications of using buggy software or medical devices graded lower than what is required in a hospital setting!  It is with these implications in mind, that several rules, regulations, and standards for medical devices, some set by the International Electrotechnical Commission, are enforced.

One of the most accepted standards is the 60601-1 electrical and radiation standard, addressing verification, design methodology, risk / safety assessment for patients and staff, and other factors. It’s not possible to determine the total number of test cases for final revisions of hardware, which is why this standard is in place. Every revision this standard goes through brings significant changes to how medical grade computers and other devices must be built, often times focusing on the medical device’s operational distance to the patient. There are three distance classifications for the standard:

  • Type B: For devices that operate near patients such as medical panel computers
  • Type BF: For devices that make contact with the patient such as endoscopes
  • Type CF: For devices that make contact with a patient’s heart such as an implantable defibrillator

Any medical device, whether in close vicinity or making contact with the patient, must meet the standards for safety. The FDA ensures medical grade computers and devices pass these standards for the safety of patients and the professionals that use them under the 510(k) regulation, requiring that manufacturers demonstrate their product is safe. There are a number of manufacturers that claim to have medical grade products, but haven’t actually been independently tested. Be sure to do your homework before any major hardware deployment.

Hospitals Need to Operate 24/7

Hospitals need to operate on a 24/7 timeline. Fortunately, the medical grade computers in question can operate with those time demands. It’s not just a matter of having a computer that’s always on—it’s a question of the computer’s internal components and if they’re intended to be on 24/7. For instance, many medical computers have an emergency back-up battery installed in order to remain functional during a power outage. Imagine if the power went out, all medical computers shut down, and all that patient data was lost! Even though most hospitals are equipped with backup generators, the seconds between a power outage and the generators coming online could result in massive data loss. Medical computers with hot swappable batteries eliminate the need to be reliant on an AC power source completely. These computers are powered by removable batteries and can provide up to 16 hours of run time before you need to exchange the batteries.

Medical grade computers cannot operate in the same manner that consumer-grade computers do; the implications of losing data, hardware malfunction, overheating, sucking up dust, and other factors are far too great to sacrifice for patients. Plus, computers with moving parts are more likely to malfunction, especially under 24/7 operation.

One Must Consider the Application as Well

Even within a hospital, different departments have different needs. Operating rooms, labs, and ICU units often have stringent requirements. In these environments,  a fanless medical computer would be required. To achieve fanless operation without overheating, these computers need to be built with specialized components that commercial grade manufacturers aren’t willing to invest in. The fanless operation eliminates the weakest link and moving parts inside the computer, with an added bonus of running quietly.

What is Required in a Hospital Setting Depends on the Hospital

What is required in a hospital setting can vary, to some degree, on the patients and applications that are common to that facility. As such, understanding the hospital environment of your particular facility is key. However, even with this in mind, there are a few general requirements all hardware must meet if it’s being used in an ICU environment. Those are: 

  • Antimicrobial* to protect the computer casing from deterioration and degradation
  • Proper certification for near-patient use
  • And reliable power

For more information on medical hardware you can employ that meet these criteria and more, contact an expert from the Cybernet team today.