Legacy technology is defined as technology which is no longer produced (or in many cases even supported), but which still functions and can be used. The medical industry is filled with legacy technology, and while it eventually becomes necessary to sundown a given piece of medical tech – retiring it from use and buying a new piece of equipment to put in its place – prudent administrators won’t do so as long as the device continues to work and provide reliable patient care.
Medical computers make an excellent means of getting the most value out of legacy technology: overcoming some of the challenges and difficulties they embody, and ensuring that they can do their jobs as long as possible. The right computer can address the specific problems created by legacy technology, allowing your organization to continue to use it with modern medical grade PCs and similar upgraded equipment. Here’s a quick list of some of the things to look for.
Legacy Ports Keep Older Systems Up to Date
Older technology often uses obsolete ports to connect to other components, such as RS-232 ports. RS stands for “recommended standard,” and the ports themselves entailed rows of pins inserted into fitted holes to make a connection. They were in place on electronic devices starting in 1960, and remained a staple in various configurations for many years, but advancing technology gradually phased them out. USB ports, which are standard on many modern pieces of equipment, are easier to use, provide faster connections and use much less power.
That can cause a problem with legacy devices that still depend on RS-232 to interface with a computer or a printer. It sounds like a comparatively minor problem, but if it can’t be resolved, it may force the organization to replace the device simply to provide interoperability with a modern medical computer… even if the device in question still works just fine from every other perspective.
A modern medical PC with customizable ports can solve that problem quite easily. An RS-232 port (or similarly outdated connection) can be included through an expansion slot for use with a piece of legacy medical equipment, allowing for swift integration and ease of access without having to replace the whole system.
Secure Computers Can Reduce the Security Risks of Legacy Devices
Legacy devices can present unique security concerns in our era of cybernetic intrusion. Data from a medical network can fetch a high price on the black market – even more than credit card numbers – and incidents such as the LabCorp data breach earlier this year are only growing in numbers. A recent report from HealthCare IT news estimated that more than 3 million patient records in the United States were breached between April and June of 2018, and that number is only likely to grow in the future.
On May 31, the American Hospital Association issued a warning to Congress, stating that legacy medical devices are “a key vulnerability for hospitals and health systems.” Many of them were built before such threats were serious, and even those built in the digital age are vulnerable. (Development time from concept to market often takes years, and security measures put into place may become obsolete before the device even hits the market.)
The warning urges hospitals and medical providers to provide their own answers to the problem, rather than waiting for guidance from the government. Yet it also notes that replacing such devices en masse simply isn’t practical for most medical organizations, given the costs involved.
A modern medical all-in-one computer can make a cost-effective solution to the problem and help keep legacy devices protected with updated security measures. Imprivata single sign-on, for instance, uses RFID readers or fingerprint scanners to ensure that only qualified personnel can access the system. Multiple LAN ports allow IT personnel to connect devices to both the internet and an intranet, which allows older devices to communicate with one another without being connected to the outside world. These are just some of the ways that medical grade computers can help secure legacy devices and extend their lifespan.
Few medical organizations replace or update their computer systems all at once. Instead, it’s usually a piecemeal process delivered in stages, with a few units being replaced at a time. The AHA estimates that many hospitals can only afford to replace about 10 percent of their devices in a given year, and indeed, this “stagger” is one of the reasons why legacy devices continue to be used.
That can create significant problems with a device that can’t properly integrate with the remainder of a medical organization’s network. For example, say a hospital uses a legacy x-ray machine whose DICOM files can’t be read by the most modern computers. If the images generated by that machine are needed on short notice – say, in an operating room – the lack of flexibility can create a huge delay.
All-in-one computers with upgradable options make an elegant “bridge” solution to such issues by interfacing with legacy devices while serving as a connection for newer systems. To take the above example, an all-in-one PC might have the ability to read the x-ray images from the legacy device, convert them into an easily readable format and forward them to a new medical monitor much more quickly and effectively. In so doing, it allows the x-ray machine to continue functioning: letting the hospital get the maximum use from the investment and delaying the day when the machine needs to be replaced.
Cybernet Manufacturing produces a high-end line of medical computers that can be customized to work with a wide variety of legacy devices. Contact our team today to learn more.