Tag Archives: medical grade computers

Computer on wheels or medical computer

Mishaps in Hospitals from Inadequate Hardware Problems

Technology is great. We can stick to 8 hour work days while increasing productivity and then go home to families or plan out our next self-driven project. Granted that’s what technology is supposed to help us do, but sometimes bumps in the road of problem A to solution B can be tech-central. Technology can fail, unfortunately. Thankfully, the time invested to restore tech to working order is a sacrifice hospitals are willing to accept to bring better and less erroneous healthcare to patients. However, when older and inadequate tech is more of a burden, it’s time to consider scrapping what used to work ten years ago with something that can reduce tech-related stress and hangups that drain more time than necessary to get the job done.

Spotty WiFi with Computers on Wheels

It’s a constant problem for the 21st century in hospitals everywhere—spotty wireless communications in every corner of the hospital building. Call up a nurse’s desk to ask what issues they’re facing with technology and inconsistent WiFi will be mentioned. Chalk it up to weakened signals from aging hardware and insufficient components. It’s not feasible to remove that problem for good, but it’s possible to pinpoint key factors in technology—mostly residing in a hospital’s medical computers—that can be improved so WiFi isn’t a problem of which patient room you’re in or where you’re standing. Here’s WiFi woes and ways to restore the fidelity in the “Fi.”

Take a hypothetical case—a nurse using a cloud-based EMR system on a cheap laptop finds that in patient room 105 the WiFi doesn’t kick in, and so entering information relies on memory, written notes, or a silly, cumbersome workaround. That’s not ideal for a hospital, especially when “zero” can be a dangerous entry for a patient refill or a different metric. If the IT department has ensured that the wireless infrastructure is the highest standard on the market, then the culprit lies within the laptop. The wireless card inside of the machine doesn’t communicate well with the wireless routers in the hospital.

If that’s the reason for the signal drop, it’s time for IT to consider upgrading their computing efforts to medical computers with Intel-certified wireless cards instead of laptops that power cheap alternatives. An Intel dual-band wireless AC card is the current standard for wireless technology in a hospital. Not only more secure, these cards have the know-how to switch between wireless routers on the fly without signal loss. Computers on wheels are often pushed through several hospital wings and floors, jumping from one wireless router to the next. Intel wireless cards are secure and stable enough to swap from router to router seamlessly. It’s a hardware standard that computers on wheels and medical devices need to operate optimally. Besides, less stress on the end-user is always a positive thing.

Hospitals Don’t Shut Down—Neither Should the Hardware

Twenty thousand hours. That’s how long a standard hard drive disk lasts per average metrics and regular use. It may seem like a lot, but that’s just over two years if you do the math. Medical computers operate at near 24/7 runtimes. If there’s a hard drive failure in two years, that’s not a very strong lifespan for a computer to store data. The last mishap a nurse or physician wants is for the digital rug to be pulled out beneath them with a hard drive failure while they’re busy entering patient data into a medical computer. The drive can’t be sent off to data rescue because it would violate HIPAA laws. So, what to do?

Thankfully, technology has improved hard disk storage so there aren’t moving parts to break—solid state drives have a longer lifespan than regular platter hard drives, but that doesn’t rule the smarter tech out of defect or an eventual kaput. A medical grade computer with a military-grade solid state hard drive will push that two-year average life cycle to beyond five years. If the looming storage failure is still a concern for staff—which can happen at any given moment—then a backup drive coupled with the original solid state can serve as a proper safety net. IT can clone the surviving drive and restore the medical computer to optimal working status. Besides, a computer cycle for a hospital should be five years to stay with EMR software development. Having a hard drive that’s graded to last beyond a purchase cycle is ideal.

Shoddy Medical Computer Touch Screens

Touch screens are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. Introduce the dirt and grease from five separate individuals’ hands onto a touch-screen interface and an infection may reside somewhere in the fingerprint jungle. They’re not always the easiest to clean either—spray disinfectant directly on a medical monitor and the internal components could suffer from adverse effects from the disinfectant (broken pixels, unresponsive touch controls, or an immediate transformation into a paperweight) running into the crevices of the monitor. Some insufficient touch screen tech needs constant calibration to ensure what’s touched is the intended function. Pressing “Close” should never result in “Administer Medicine”—we shudder at that thought. But there’s still tech problems galore in working with touch screens that don’t measure up to what hospitals need.

The kind of tech needed in a hospital is what’s called 5-Wire Resistive technology. Avoiding too much tech-talk, it’s a more durable technology than capacitive because it holds up to scratches and cosmetic imperfections, it’s easier to work with since it doesn’t require skin contact, it’s cheaper to manufacture, and it lasts longer than the newer capacitive technology. Couple these features on a medical computer and bye-bye tech problems.

It isn’t intuitive to think of hard drives, touch screen technology or wireless cards when you’re talking about patient care. But in today’s HIT world, technology is one of the driving factors in providing the absolute best user experience for healthcare practitioners so they can focus on taking care of patients. For more information on how a computer designed specifically with healthcare in mind is different than a commercial grade computer you can contact us today to learn more about our medical computers.

Advantages of Powered and Non-Powered Medical Carts

Any hospital or clinic will have a range of technology products to assist in patient care. Sometimes a hospital’s budget restraints can’t afford the latest in technology, so they opt for more financially viable solutions. Other times the needs of a medical staff might outweigh the potential high costs for equipment, so purchasing decisions might anchor to more sophisticated, familiar technology. The same is true for medical carts. When browsing for medical cart options, it’s important to note the positive aspects for each powered and non-powered medical cart. Here’s a look at both options in detail. We hope this serves as a guide to make a decision as to what’s right for your hospital and staff.

Advantages of Non-Powered Medical Carts

A non-powered cart meant for use as a workstation on wheels is going to be substantially cheaper than it’s powered counterpart. Battery-less carts with wheels and a few functioning devices (key lockable drawers, VESA mounts, etc.) can range in price depending on the quality of the build and the brand, but ballpark figures usually run under two thousand dollars for a strong solution. Hospitals and clinics looking to buy in bulk will definitely save in the long run when choosing a non-powered medical cart. Plus, since they have fewer components and no internal batteries, they weigh much less—reducing overall fatigue when a nurse pushes a cart around for several hours. They’re more maneuverable, have slimmer profiles, use fewer cables, receive power from the all-in-one computer installed on it, and there’s no bulky batteries—which, per the FDA, have been known to catch fire recently. They’re safer options because there’s no involving of electricity, no risk of abusing battery power, and can fit in tighter spaces. Typically, medical computers with hot swappable batteries are ideal on top of non-powered carts so you can navigate hospital hallways without worrying about wires, where they’re connected, and how long the battery life will last—especially if the mounted computer upon it has triple hot swappable batteries. A non-powered cart doesn’t need to be plugged in for a recharge. Instead, if the computer installed on it has swappable batteries, set the drained batteries aside to charge and install a freshly-charged set—they’re more stable than the battery technology in powered carts. Lastly, fewer components and functioning devices mean easier troubleshooting if a problem ever arises, meaning fewer IT requests.

Advantages of Powered Medical Carts

Powered carts have increased functionality with electronic locking drawers, built-in medication dispensers, the ability to power peripherals like barcode scanners or printers, powered height adjustment, LEDs that illuminate the keyboard and cart path, control interfaces, and other components that are better solutions for hospitals that want more mobile functionality.  Plenty of powered carts use different “modes” of operation to facilitate their intended use—”pharmacy” mode for instance on some keep all drawers unlocked so medications are easier to retrieve as someone makes their rounds to distribute to patients. Several carts have motor-powered height adjustment controls that can raise or lower the cart just by holding a button. You can select from a wider range of medical grade computers with a powered cart since a majority of the marketed computers don’t have hot swappable batteries—a necessary feature for non-powered carts. A powered cart is a more expensive option, but the functionality from the powered cart alone makes up for the difference in price.

Whichever type of cart is more fitting for your budget or hospital needs, ensure what is mounted to the cart is also sufficient for your rounds and patients. A medical cart without a proper medical grade computer could pose a potential risk when used near patients. For non-powered workstations, a medical all-in-one with hot swap batteries can help save some money while still giving you the functionality for bedside charting and other tasks. For powered carts, any medical grade computer could suffice, provided that computer meets the other requirements for use.  Neither choice is right or wrong. It just depends on the unique needs of your particular project. For more information, feel free to contact us.

hot swappable battery on a workstation with wheels

Safety Awareness in Hospitals with Workstations on Wheels

Sometimes the smallest details of safety awareness in hospitals can prevent disaster. Fires can start in the blink of an eye. Tripping hazards may not be as apparent until someone unfortunately falls victim to a few dangling wires. It’s important to be aware of what could turn into a problem before the problem arises. There’s the obvious hazards like spills that need to be cleaned immediately, or frayed wires of a hospital appliance that need to be replaced. Those with a keen eye and a constant awareness of safety can spot hidden hazards, however.

Medical Cart Batteries Have Caught Fire

Recently, the FDA announced a lot of medical cart batteries have been malfunctioning, catching fire, or exploding in hospitals. The FDA received several complaints about these hazards in a 6-month timespan. They’re batteries used in crash carts, point of care medical devices, and medication dispensing carts as well. Many sources online reveal that battery fires in medical carts are very difficult to extinguish—they require burial to put out the flames! The batteries in question were certified and met all safety guidelines, begging the question of what’s causing malfunctions. It’s likely the case that the capacity and age of the battery are the culprit factors, so being aware of the capacity and how old a battery pack may be are strong methods of avoiding a possible explosion. If a medical cart and its huge battery are reaching senior status, it’s time to upgrade for the sake of efficiency and safety.

One way to overcome this safety hazard is to purchase a non-powered medical cart and pair it with a computer that has hot swappable batteries. There are a number of benefits to this type of solution. In addition to mitigating the fire hazard risk, non-powered carts are lighter weight and more maneuverable making life easier for nurses and other end users. Also, batteries can be taken out and replaced with backups while the computer is still running, allowing for 24/7 operability without the need to plug a cart into an outlet to charge. Because the batteries are regularly being swapped out of the computer to recharge, if there’s any sign of battery corrosion, battery expansion, or just a failure to hold a charge, the battery can be properly disposed of and replaced with a spare. Plus, the hot swappable battery is smaller than those found in medical carts. Since the medical cart computer relies on three batteries of lower capacity to operate properly, they aren’t drained as often and are less susceptible to overheating, explosions, fires, or other battery hazards.

Clean Up Clutter with a Workstation on Wheels

A common hazard listed by Department of Health and Human Services in their safety document is something we’re all capable of creating: clutter. Computers are often notorious hubs of clutter, especially when coupled with several peripherals like printers, barcode scanners and cords connecting a monitor to a computer.  Cable sleeving is a viable prevention strategy to defuse hazards, but a better solution is to minimize on cabling as much as possible.

Enter the best solution for reducing cable clutter: an all-in-one medical computer. It’s easier to reduce cable clutter if your medical computer system has fewer cables! Some units can be equiped with integrated fingerprint scanners and RFID readers, eliminating the need for 3rd party peripherals, thus eliminating even more cord clutter. Plus, with these sorts of computers they can be VESA-mounted into a workstation on wheels—the system’s few cables can be routed through cable management panels so they’re out of sight, out of mind, and off the floor. If you couple them with a wireless keyboard and mouse or use a touch-screen keyboard (very common on all-in-one medical cart computers), you’ve basically enhanced the safety of the workstation on wheels.

Protect Against the Unseen Hazard

The increase in computer usage for hospitals has been fantastic for productivity and other reasons, but research has shown a rise in VRE, MRSA, and PSAE, three common bacteria that are transferred easily through keyboard and computer contact. Infections from these bacteria are the least apparent hazards in comparison to battery fires and loose wires,  so it’s important to be aware of all that is commonly touched.

However, the solution to these bacteria problems can go a step further. Medical computers that are rated to be water and dust resistant (also known as IP65) can be disinfected freely and often by spraying directly on their touch screens. Also, if your keyboard is IP68-rated you can actually submerse it in water and spray on it directly to disinfect it heavily since keyboards see a lot of interaction from several individuals. In addition, medical grade computers will also often have an antimicrobial housing to further prevent the spread of bacteria and germs.

Keeping safety awareness in the back of your mind is ideal in any situation, but especially in a hospital where certain computer hazards can arise either from aged medical cart batteries, unkempt wires from poorly-installed computers, or bacteria that can infect several people. If you would like to find out more information about how medical grade computers are safer for your patients you can contact Cybernet here.

medical computer systems and hot swappable battery functions

3 Ways Hospital Networks Can Impact Patient Care and How to Combat Them

No hospital network is perfect. An entire infrastructure for patient information is at the whim of Murphy’s Law unfortunately, and one glitch in an entire system can throw off the operations of a hospital in the blink of an eye, costing a chunk of productivity time, money, and the worst—patient safety and health. Online sources point to previous cases of such flops, like the Martin Health System in Stuart, Florida. Their infrastructure recently had an internal hardware failure, setting back hospital EMR records for about two days. Although network systems and their medical computers were restored as quickly as IT could manage the problem, patient care significantly dropped and plenty of vulnerabilities were introduced. Here are a few problems hospitals face when entire networks turn haywire and solutions to minimize mishaps.

Power Outages Cause More Than Just Downtime

Let’s say you’re a medical professional making rounds for about 12 patients, suddenly the power drops out, and the emergency generators have failed! The patient infotainment systems in each patient room have shut down, EMR systems have stopped tracking, medical devices won’t operate, and you’re in the middle of a nightmare. It’s a more frequent problem than you would think. Hospital operations must continue even in downtime, so you’ll need to alter all your work to manual processes. To give you an idea of the severity of a power outage in a hospital, online sources report some patients at a major hospital were on electronic respirators that failed during an outage, and hospital staff attempted rescues by using manual respirators. Unfortunately, the manual efforts weren’t enough to sustain the patients’ well being.

So what’s the best way to combat the potential hazards of a full power outage? Medical computer systems with a hot swappable battery function can ensure you’re not without power. If you’re operating a respirator with a medical computer system that needs continuous power, using a system with sustainable battery life in the mishap of a failed power infrastructure can save lives. Even having a medical computer with an internal backup battery can be enough to bridge the gap between a power outage and getting backup generators online. Compromises in patient care won’t happen if your computer hardware is equipped to run on internal batteries.

Network Failures Cause a Wealth of Different Problems

Network infrastructures aren’t perfect, and at times components can fail—refer to the first paragraph about Murphy’s Law.  If you’re operating EMR software on a consumer-grade computer and the wireless network card fails, the problem will need to be diagnosed to take time away from patient care. This forces medical staff to resort to manual documentation and charting—which can introduce human error. Patients may get delayed medication, incorrect dosage, or the wrong medication because of a network hardware component failure. Compromises in patient care can happen simply because of the wrong hardware.

Ensuring your networked computers are equipped with proper wireless connectivity is one way to safeguard against network mishaps. First, it requires that the components of the computer are industrial-grade, made with high-quality transistors, diodes, and capacitors, to increase a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) rating. Second, it’s best to utilize Intel-certified wireless network cards within your medical computer system to ensure high-quality connectivity in an environment where wireless communications are supremely important and likely to drop connection frequently. These two factors will reduce potential wireless hardware mishaps so patient care and data aren’t compromised.

Network Intrusions on your Medical Computer Systems Can be Devastating

Security in an online network shouldn’t be an afterthought; a single intrusion into a medical computer on a wireless network can introduce the wrong individuals onto a network, violating HIPAA regulations and compromising patient data for potentially thousands of people. Medical records actually sell for a pretty penny on the black market, more than credit card numbers, because people abuse them to get prescription drugs illegally. Plus, if there’s HIPAA violations it can cause a hospital between 50 to 100 thousand dollars per the severity of the violation—or it may end up shutting hospital doors.

To ensure patient safety and continued hospital operation, the solution is ensuring whatever medical computer systems you’re using have two-factor authentication protocols. Some states actually have TFA as a requirement. Plus, having a medical computer system with a Trusted Platform Module to encrypt the information is another layer of protection you can add so even if the internal hard drives are lost, stolen, or otherwise, the data on them can’t be easily read or retracted. Using a medical computer system with Imprivata Single-Sign On is one of the highest secure standards for medical professionals to safeguard information and make authentication easier than typing in huge, confusing passwords.

Disasters will happen in the medical world, but precaution can ensure fragile lives and important hospital operations aren’t sacrificed when mishaps strike. At Cybernet, we engineer our medical computers with these contingencies in mind. Ensure you’re protected by using the right medical computer systems to take care of patient needs—contact us today to learn more.

 

medical computers and emr certification

How EMR Software Upgrades Can Drive Computer Hardware Updates

The demand for computer capability has increased because of encroaching software complexity; we can no longer use clunky, old hardware to help our doctors and nurses complete an entire hospital shift. It’s not just a matter of how slow a process might run on a medical computer, but rather if a computer is compatible with software in question and how physicians interact with the computers. One of the reasons aging computers put restraints on the workflow for a hospital is because of increasing software demands, so here are several ways that software may drive the necessary upgrade in hardware.

Medical Computers are Popular for Multitasking

Computers don’t always serve just one purpose—multitasking is a commonplace activity, so what’s required is enough memory in order to support the concurrent programs they run simultaneously. Not enough RAM will turn any computer sluggish—multitasking and load time will suffer. It isn’t always easy to install more after deployment depending on the system. Some are sealed shut to prevent ingress, and so installing RAM may damage the internal components. Or, if the person installing RAM isn’t careful, the entire computer could receive electrostatic discharge turning it into a nice paperweight. The best way to address this problem is ensuring each computer in a deployment has more RAM than the minimum to run a particular software product. It’s a good idea to install the recommended level of RAM or go beyond what’s recommended. Thankfully, a lot of medical computers have customization options to choose how much RAM should be installed into the system before deployment.

EMR Systems Need Processing Power

If your EMR system is running sluggish, it’s time to upgrade. Most likely it’s a problem of an aged processor that can’t handle the number of Floating Point Operations Per Second (FLOPS), one measurement among many to determine the speed of a processor. Imagine all the frustrated doctors and nurses waiting to open a patient’s chart  while the computer cycles for several minutes just to display information. With the wide processor availability on the market, it can be a little confusing on what to select for a processor. Computers with Epic certification often run 6th generation Intel Skylake processors, common CPUs for a lot of Epic’s more complex modules. Medical staff can rest assured that the processor can handle software modules with ease and won’t suffer from excessive load times or computer hang-ups.

EMR Software Modules Utilize Touch Screen

A computer’s internal components aren’t the only factor in running a software product optimally. The way a doctor, nurse, or staff member interfaces with the software is also important. Imagine installing a VESA mountable computer only to find there’s no surface for using a keyboard or mouse and the computer isn’t touch-screen enabled! Touch screen functionality is important because it frees up the hands and removes the need for a physical keyboard if there’s no space for one. Plus, some EMR software products are only compatible with screens that are 24 inches diagonally in order to display all patient information. Computers with Epic certification are typically 24 inches or wider because of the visual aspect ratio for Epic; anything smaller and the software won’t run optimally—or at all.

Dedicated Video is a Must for some EMR Software

Surgeons using EMR software to give them instant video feedback—take an endoscopy for example—can’t use unclear, low-definition, choppy video to perform successful operations on patients. Upgrading to a surgical display equipped with a dedicated NVIDIA card is best for surgeons so they’re able to see in real-time what they’re doing as they perform on patients. Integrated video cards don’t provide that level of sophistication, so they pale in comparison to what a surgical display might provide.

Increased Software Security Means Increased Hardware Security

HIPAA violations are no laughing matter, and EMR software is developed with security in mind to prevent those violations. However, the software here dictates the requirements for hardware. Without a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), patient data is at a greater risk. TPMs encrypt patient information so drives can’t be pulled out of a medical computer and installed into a different computer, adding a layer of protection to sensitive information.

At Cybernet, we work with our partners to understand the complex challenges that healthcare IT professionals face on a daily basis. Because of that, we have engineered a full line of medical grade computers specifically engineered for multiple hospital and healthcare applications. For more information you can check out our website or contact us here.

 

medical computers and their role with patient engagement in telehealth

Here’s How Telehealth is Revolutionizing the Way We Practice Healthcare

Telehealth is a topic under heavy study because it’s extremely effective at reducing time and streamlining processes for medical care. It’s a complex umbrella term that addresses physician to patient interaction, how medical records are viewed and delivered, physician care and outreach, patient infotainment systems, and other important factors. One key aspect of telehealth is patient engagement technology which we are seeing improve over time with the rise of smaller, faster medical computers. Here are some ways patient engagement technology is changing telehealth and making healthcare more convenient for everyone.

Virtual Appointments are a Reality with Medical Computers

Online videoconferencing is the first telehealth innovation that comes to mind. It’s still a common practice for people to schedule appointments months in advance for an initial diagnosis and then follow-up appointments to treat or cure an ailment. If a patient needs information from a nurse, it still requires an appointment, more waiting, travel, another waiting room, etc. With the rise of telehealth, patients are able to skip waiting rooms and connect with a doctor or nurse via videoconference with a computer in nursing. If live appointments aren’t available, patients can still leave video messages and possibly show progress of a medicine’s effect. Nurses can hold “question and answer” sessions to keep patients informed and use visual aids to help patients understand their health complications. Plus, medical records can be updated on-the-fly using EMR software, streamlining the process from patient feedback to updating medical records. Growing advancements in this field have strengthened the interconnectivity of rural areas with hospitals. According to an online source published in 2012 called The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment, telehealth reduces cost and increases quality of care for patients that can’t easily access the nearest hospital. A recent dermatology study showed physicians were able to increase their patient head count by approximately 270 per month with virtual appointments. Virtual appointments are a growing trend and studies reflect it!

Online Patient Portals are More Common

Patients in rural areas don’t always have the luxury of stopping by a clinic to get medical record printouts, so now there are online patient portals dedicated to showing medical records. Patients can even take questionnaires to narrow down a medicinal recommendation from a physician, request prescription refills, look at bill and payment history, or communicate directly with nurses in an orderly system to relay information about healthcare developments. As reported from the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, over 60 percent of hospitals let their patients view, download, and transfer their health data in 2014. It’s a real growing trend now because of technological advancements with medical computers and web-based interfaces that take the waiting process out of healthcare.

Medical Computers Have Started Remote Patient Monitoring

Patients of all types struggle with time and keeping proper records for a doctor’s evaluation. Diabetics must watch their diet and monitor their blood glucose levels to track their health records. Clinically obese individuals transfer their caloric burn rate to doctors, necessitating another appointment, more travel, and more waiting rooms. It’s the same across the board for individuals with limited lung function, insomnia, heart palpitations, dementia, and other patients with measurable results of their health problems. With the advent of telehealth, remote patient monitoring can be automated and sent to a physician almost immediately. It’s all done within the medical computer, streamlining the process of getting information to the doctors without human error introduced.  The benefits have showed in research as well. As before, the key aspect to telehealth is patient engagement, and keeping patients informed through doctors’ notes and information about their illnesses has shown increased rates of consistent medicine ingestion and other metrics. There are interactive disease management programs in the field (BeWell Mobile for instance) that let patients send their vital signs to their providers electronically with quick recommendations from their providers on what to do if their symptoms flare up. Another excellent example is called the Virtual Dental Home, a telehealth program that lets dental health professionals transfer information between each other to assist patients in remote locations.

Patient Engagement Solutions are Integrated into Hospitals

One of the most desired aspects of telehealth is connecting inpatients to their families during their (hopefully short) hospital stay. Patient infotainment systems are a standard in hospitals because hospital guests can remotely connect with anyone they desire over the internet, along with ordering food, watching movies, or calling staff when necessary. It’s part of the entire patient engagement package, ensuring patients are well-educated on their ailments so they understand their role in self-care.

These are all results of advancement in medical computer technology pushing telehealth to expand healthcare reach, cut down on waiting time, streamline communication, provide remote monitoring, increase patient engagement, connect patients remotely with doctors and family, and deliver an overall better patient care experience.

 

 

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.

Understanding the Unique Requirements for Medical Computers in a Hospital Setting

Hospitals gather a large population of infected individuals in one place, so it’s difficult to keep nosocomial infections from happening. That requires different standards for hospital operation and use of equipment. One of the largest reasons for hospital beds and rooms filling up is the invisible agent—microbes and bacteria that pass on unwanted viruses and pathogens that can quickly affect a small population. 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 Computers Need Antimicrobial Housings

Medical grade computers are built with either an antimicrobial coating sprayed onto the device post production or include an antimicrobial resin mixed into the plastic housing during manufacturing. But what exactly does that mean? Antimicrobial is an umbrella term that describes a range of abilities that disinfect and ward off growth of microorganisms, often times originating from bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitical natures. The benefit of these medical computer builds is that even with passing microbes from surface to surface, the plastic housing of these medical computers discourages microbe growth. After multiple uses from several medical professionals, a computer built with antimicrobial plastics can still help prevent the spread of germs without constant disinfection. Recent news reports detail there was a bacterial outbreak at a nationally renowned hospital that infected ten patients, thankfully none of which were fatal. The patients were infants. An online report that detailed research into an Army ICU revealed MRSA bacteria living on keyboards, a problem that could have been alleviated with antimicrobial materials. It’s clear to see why medical computers require antimicrobial housing.

Medical Grade Computers Need to Meet Standards

One might ask what kind of regulations hardware and software might need for a hospital. A lot of consumer off-the-shelf products, both hardware and software, aren’t safe for patient and medical use. Consider what the implications could be using buggy software on a medical device! For that reason there are several rules, regulations, and standards for medical devices, some set by the International Electrotechnical Commission. 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: B, BF, and CF. Type B operates near the patient, BF makes contact with the patient, and CF makes contact with a patient’s heart. 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, spread of germs, 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 are often sterile environments. 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 prevents to spread of dust and germs through the air, which could be a major contamination concern in these high specialized areas.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to stop all nosocomial infections. For the world we live in, it’s important to use the right tools for hospital use to avoid spreading infection, keep patients safe, and operate at a moment’s notice without a high risk of failure. The published studies show that these are factors required by all hospitals to operate in the best manner possible.

medical grade PCs

Extending the Life of Medical Equipment with Medical Grade PCs

The IT challenges and needs for a healthcare facility are far different than those of a traditional enterprise. Mobility, EMR compatibility, 24/7 operability as well as the need to mitigate the transfer of germs and disease must all be factored in. But even within the healthcare space, needs can vary tremendously. Consider the differences between a hospital in a large metropolitan area vs. a hospital in a rural area. In a lot of rural areas, medical facilities don’t have the luxury of large budgets or the ability to upgrade medical equipment as regularly as a larger hospital in a more densely populated area might have. Extending the life of that machinery in a cost efficient manner is vital for these types of facilities in order to provide the very best in patient care without breaking the bank.

A customer of ours recently reached out to us to let us know how they have managed to extend the life of their mobile x-ray units by integrating a medical grade computer. Their solution turned out to be a stroke of genius, and allowed their facility to move from the analog age into the digital age.

Mobility Matters in Medical Grade Computing

Our customer employed mobile x-ray units in rural areas that needed medical grade computers for control. Consumer-grade computers wouldn’t have fit the bill—carrying around a heavily-wired computer and monitor would have been insufficient and cumbersome for medical staff, so they used medical-grade PCs with hot swappable battery functionality.  With a full 16 hours of uptime running on batteries, the staff didn’t need to connect to AC power while using their mobile x-ray medical devices with the medical grade computers. Plus, there’s no downtime with computers featuring hot swappable battery technology ensuring constant healthcare. Internet connectivity is also a concern. In rural areas, internet accessibility isn’t the best which calls for a different type of wireless capability. Many mobile computers are equipped with 3 and 4G wireless technology, so even in the most distant of places medical staff can send patient data to the hospital for review if need be.

Using Surgical Grade Monitors to Enter the Digital Age

Our customer was able to connect the surgical grade monitors to the mobile x-ray devices and get an instant x-ray result on the medical computer’s touch screen. Older technologies required large film emulsion plates that took hours to process within a dark room—that obviously isn’t a mobile solution. With an instant x-ray, our customer was able to zoom in on the patient’s affected area in question and diagnose patients. Instead of having to travel several miles to a distant hospital, wait for an x-ray, process the film, and then have a doctor review the x-rays, it’s done instantly on site so the hospital doesn’t need to purchase expensive and bulky film slates for x-rays. When patient mobility is reduced, it’s up to the medical staff to transport what’s needed in the most crucial times of patient healthcare. Our provided solution fit the needs for our customer and their patients.

Medical Devices in Healthcare IT Aren’t Cheap

Our customer needed a medical grade computer that interfaced with the mobile x-ray machines without a significant price tag. Older medical devices use a serial RS-232 port, which is a legacy port not often found on consumer-grade computers. The option to upgrade to a newer set of x-ray machines wasn’t available with average prices for them ranging well over 100 thousand. In acquiring the medical grade computers, they saved crucial business funds to focus on traveling to patients with hampered mobility.

Medical Computers That Also Meet Certifications

The medical grade computers our customer used weren’t just capable of interfacing with x-ray machines for medical staff use. The computers they purchased had a full spectrum of patient safety in mind, starting with an antimicrobial plastic that inhibited the spread and growth of microorganisms. These mobile computers with the hot swappable battery function were fanless and used internal solid state drives to prevent spreading dust and germs. They also met FDA standards for patient safety with a 60601-1 certification to protect patients from electrical and radiation-related hazards.

Online sources report that 80 rural hospitals have seen closures since 2010 and approximately 600 are suffering financially, numbers likely because patients and hospitals lack mobility. These computers helped the lives of people and kept hospital doors open. There are reasons beyond mobility, however, that prompted our customer to purchase these computers—they’re medically certified for hospital and patient room use. Consumer-grade PCs don’t measure up to the standard that these computers meet! Our customer was satisfied with their purchase of these computers with the hot swappable battery function, the instant x-ray feedback, and the medical certifications to protect patients.

 

EHR Compatibility

A Few Problems Medical Professionals Face with EHR Compatibility

Per the Health IT Dashboard, 87 percent of hospitals in the United States started utilizing EHR software in 2015, a massive jump in a ten-year timespan from 25 percent in 2005. It’s clear use of EHR software has become the majority standard in a decade. Medical professionals stick by this method of health IT and information monitoring because it reduces error, streamlines processes, and ensures patient satisfaction. However, that doesn’t suggest the EHR software universe is snag-free. As with any software, problems can arise when a new EHR software product is released into a medical environment with a competing software product, and many sources note that a collective of medical professionals are raising concerns about one of the most pressing aspects of EHR software: interoperability. This aspect of EHR does not address the capability or functionality of the software itself, but rather data transfer between systems that run on medical monitors. It comes down to what’s called the CCD, or continuing care document.

In EHR Compatibility, the CCD is What Matters Most

The CCD, per Wikipedia, is an “XML-based markup standard intended to specify the encoding, structure, and semantics of a patient summary clinical document for exchange.” A compromised development by ASTM International and Health Level Seven International’s Clinical Document Architecure, it is encoded by EHR software as it contains a substantial amount of data including medications, allergies, problems, lab results, and patient chart data. This document is widely shared among medical computers and EHR devices. While not a complete medical record, the CCD includes just the most crucial information for effective medical care. It should be viewable via any standard web browser, but some voices lament that’s not always the case with a lot of EHR software, which leads to one of the most prevalent problems in healthcare IT…

EHR Compatibility Can be Terrible Because of Proprietary Formatting

Much like proprietary audio files or specific Apple chargers vs. Android phone chargers, not every EHR software product exports a CCD that will be read by another. At first glance, it may seem that transferring EHR between systems is just a file transfer, but how does that file transfer take place? If medical professionals bring their own devices, there are HIPAA security concerns—putting a patient’s data on a USB flash drive certainly isn’t secure. If one EHR system is web-based and another isn’t, how does an individual transfer the files? Does a physician-hosted EHR system function with a remotely hosted system or a cloud-based system? EHR compatibility problems can arise within hospitals—not just on a hospital to hospital transfer—if their IT departments decide on conflicting software environments, further causing connectivity problems. It’s a tough call between remaining secure, transferring the information from one medical monitor to another, and finding the quickest way to do so without compromising the data. Sometimes medical professionals have to print EHR documents and transcribe them to another platform, introducing human error and lengthening a typically automated process. EHR has been a wide success because of the Meaningful Use program and the HITECH Act, but medical staff still spend time bothering with menial tasks getting information from A to B. Health care companies are encouraging EHR software developers to start using open format file types instead of proprietary. There’s still a lot of room to improve, unfortunately.

EHR Compatibility Depends on the Medical Computer

Certain medical computers, while meeting FDA standards for near-patient use, aren’t compatible with all EHR systems—some medical monitors operate on a 4:3 aspect ratio, while EHR systems may utilize a 16:9 ratio to display a full gamut of patient information. A computer with an incompatible display may reject software installation or could limit the functionality of the software. Furthermore, highly advanced EHR systems require two-factor authentication, and if a system isn’t equipped with hardware to scan authentication methods, it may likely reject installation. Compatibility isn’t just a matter of speaking with other EHR software products—it’s a matter if the medical monitor in question can even support it.

A Way Out of EHR Compatibility Concern

Epic is one of the most prominent EHR systems used in the medical industry, and there’s a strong reason for it; interoperability is a key aspect of the Epic EHR system. There have been strides to see a universal healthcare data format for EHR systems, but it’s still a goal that not every company adheres to yet, even though Epic has been a key software product in that avenue. The Sequoia Project is an organization that advocates for nationwide health information exchange, and Carequality is a project within Sequoia designed to address interoperability between all parties in a healthcare IT network—addressing policy and technical agreements for the exchange of data. As for now, EHR compatibility can be addressed by ensuring all computers running a specific EHR—whichever it may be—remain in the same local “network.” Having a unified system with similar hardware cuts down on training time and bypasses any compatibility problems. Ensuring that the computers that run the EHR software are certified for that software is a must too—purchasing a computer deployment that ultimately doesn’t work with a given EHR system is wasted money. If your corporation goes with Epic for your EHR solution, keep in mind that many of our CyberMed computers are Epic and Cerner certified.

Hopefully in the near future we’ll see a unified, open format data file shareable among all EHR systems so we can focus on patient health instead of the technology supporting it. This unified system will take effort from several roles—the government, EHR providers, payers, and patients too. Some medical professionals argue that EHR developers must have proper incentives to cater to a unified system; it is a competitive market, after all.