SFF Rx for medical device design challenges

Embedded technology vendors are innovating SFF-related products that remedy technical dilemmas in medical applications.

The American people have spoken about which candidates they want in office this election season, but the discussion on what to do about health care is far from over. As politicians continue to debate the pros and cons of Obamacare, medical device developers are working on innovative devices and equipment that can minimize operating costs and improve patient care. The embedded technologies powering these devices are helping create medical breakthroughs and revolutionizing the health care industry in emerging fields such as telehealth, which will be highlighted in our upcoming E-cast entitled "Enabling Telehealth Devices with Embedded Computing" (register at ecast.opensystemsmedia.com).

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SFF Rx for medical device design challenges

Several embedded technology vendors are taking advantage of this momentum and developing Small Form Factor (SFF)-related products that fulfill the need for secure, convenient solutions certified to strict rules and regulations. The following excerpts from a recent Intel Embedded Community blog series explore how SFF companies are addressing the numerous technical challenges specific to medical device design.

Portability and low power consumption

In a 2009 report, Gartner identified mobile health monitoring as one of the top 10 consumer mobile technologies for 2012, citing its potential for reducing costs and improving quality of life for patients. SFFs are particularly suited to mobile medical applications, as they offer low power consumption and the ability to be unplugged and powered by batteries.

Medical tablets including Advantech’s MICA-101 and Arbor Technology’s M1255 maintain low Thermal Design Power (TDP) while providing a consolidated view of patient data in a convenient platform suited for clinical environments. Bedside infotainment stations such as Avalue Technology’s MTP-1503 help health care providers avoid the trouble of back-and-forth recharging as devices are used on the go.

COM Express modules are especially useful in medical designs because they enable I/O to be customized while providing a wide processor and power selection to meet market demand. Intel Atom-based COM Express and Pico-ITX products from RadiSys such as the Procelerant Z500 and PICOZ500 have been successfully deployed in patient monitoring and portable ultrasound equipment.

Long life support

In medical imaging, a picture is worth a thousand words and several gigabytes of data. MRI and CT scans, mass-spectrometry, phenotyping, and genetic studies generate hundreds of terabytes of data that must be processed and stored by powerful supercomputers, like the Intel Xeon-based SGI Altix UV being used to support the efforts of the Institute of Cancer Research in England.

Medical equipment manufacturers want their end products to sell for 5-10 years to recoup ROI from their investments in these “big iron” machines.

To help ensure long-term operation, Corvalent “overengineers” its motherboard products using a variety of processes, from conformal coating to board-level design changes. For example, the Corsys-M10 Medical Tablet with an Intel Core 2 processor is designed to withstand common hospital chemicals and significant physical abuse for reliable performance in its intended environment.

Kontron partners with strategic suppliers to extend the life of its products for medical environments, such as its ETXexpress baseboard and ETXexpress-CD video frame grabber used in dental imaging systems.

“We are seeing faster turnover because of the rapid pace of change in technology, and for this reason, we go with Computer-On-Module (COM) technology so the computer can scale with the application as processor performance improves,” Kontron’s Jack London stated during the Q&A session of a webcast earlier this year.

Accuracy, reliability, interoperability

Providing an interconnected personal telehealth system wherein physicians can remotely prescribe treatments and patients can monitor their health status requires accurate, reliable information communicated via interoperable devices. This priority represents the objective of the Continua Health Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of health care and technology companies.

Eurotech, a member of Continua, uses standardized form factors like COM Express, EPIC, and PC/104-Plus when developing products for medical deployments, such as the Helios edge controller platform. The company develops its platforms using processes to ensure robust design with reliable signal integrity, EMI, and thermal performance, helping OEMs achieve FDA certification.

To meet certification requirements, medical systems need operating systems built for safety-critical reliability, such as those offered by LynuxWorks. These OSs have been used in high-end imaging, life support, and bedside patient monitoring applications, including a recent proof-of-concept platform that connected more than 25 wireless biometric sensors using a Portwell Mini-ITX board and the LynxSecure real-time hypervisor and separation kernel to isolate the Bluetooth networking stack from other system software.

The Continua Health Alliance is striving to make medical system design and interoperability easier for companies by reducing the complexity of standards and providing events, training, and a rigorous certification program.

“Companies are transitioning their products to target the broad, international, standards-based market and leveraging the tools and resources Continua has to offer to minimize effort and ensure high quality,” said Rick Cnossen, Continua’s president and chair of the board of directors.

Better, cheaper, easier – these are the words you want to describe the equipment used to manage your health. For more innovative ideas in technologies for medical applications, see our Telehealth channel at channels.opensystemsmedia.com/Telehealth and check out the telehealth virtual panel discussion in the December issue of our sister publication, Embedded Computing Design (www.embedded-computing.com).