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Brainstorm: Medical Electronics

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 6:43am
Edited by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

How will advances in touchscreen technology impact the medical device market?

Trevor DavisTrevor Davis, Cypress Semiconductor, www.cypress.com

The key to revolutionary advancement in touch is the maturity of the entire ecosystem. To advance, there needs to be invention in the clarity, thinness, and strength of the touch surface (coverlens) materials. There must be invention in transmissivity and uniformity of the deposited electrical sensing materials (like Indium Tin Oxide, ITO). There must be innovation in the system display to deliver crystal-clear images at low cost. There must be advancement in the touch controller chip accuracy and immunity to system noise for accurate finger touch. And there must be a homogenization of software operating systems that enable innovative new applications.

Critical mass movement in the mobile phone market to capacitive touchscreens (such as the iPhone), has focused the market on invention. With new strengthened glass and advanced etching techniques, coverlenses on products are more clear and precise than ever. With the more prolific use of AMOLED technology (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode), images are indeed crystal clear and detailed. And broader adoption of Android-based systems makes developing of standardized applications possible.

All of these advancements are fundamental to broad medical adoption. Information, literally at your fingertips, on lightweight, portable, hygienically designed (no space between keyboard keys for medical debris) products is possible today. Medical staff can see in high definition on ultra-light weight products, can zoom in to view an x-ray detail with just two fingers, and can engage a colleague simply by writing on a screen with their finger. Precision enables a completely different level of product use for “real” medical business work.

Daryl MillerDaryl Miller, Lantronix, www.lantronix.com 

Touchscreens provide an informative visual indication of medical device status, allowing the user to quickly drill into more details. This is vital to the work the clinician is performing. Advances in touchscreen technology have helped propel the medical device market forward by creating interfaces on everyday items that improve accuracy, efficiency, productivity and patient safety, all while reducing costs for hospitals. 'Virtual interfaces' can replace actual dials, displays or knobs of older equipment, leading to rapid proficiency with new equipment, and more accurate entry of patient data. Display interfaces can often be adjusted, addressing the spectrum of visual abilities from an aging nursing workforce. Recently released methods of alpha numeric information entry on touchscreens has improved data entry accuracy and speed many times over (i.e. Swype). Medical devices are meant to aid hospital staff in caring for patients, not to add additional complexity to an already challenging environment. Vendors are now offering customizable interfaces, allowing caregivers more freedom in incorporating new devices into their workflow. Recent improvements in touchscreen technology make devices more efficient, leading to more productive hospitals and clinicians while improving decision making at the point of care. 


Simon WyreSimon Wyre, Lascar Electronics, www.lascarelectronics.com

The term ‘Medical Device Market’ covers a very diverse range of application areas from patient-operated information systems in waiting rooms through to specialised diagnostic and treatment equipment in operating theatres. Each has its own requirements but all must achieve the same aim; to simplify the operation of complex systems.

The advances we have seen are not just in the methodology of the screen itself but also in the screen’s production process, making it smaller, more reliable, more accurate and cheaper.  The diversity of screen types means there is a solution for most application areas. This is particularly significant where embedded systems are being used in specialised equipment such as patient status monitors or automated medication delivery systems. Keyboards are not just inconvenient but extremely unhygienic. This freedom allows touchscreens on equipment located on treatment carts and wall-mounted ‘swing-out‘ monitors.

The resistive touchscreen as used in many mobile phones, still has many applications in medical instrumentation but it has some drawbacks such as drift and limited lifespan compared with acoustic and infrared technologies, which still allow operation with gloved hands (essential in many medical applications), operation with pens, styli and just about anything the untrained or even trained user might pick up. They can be used in very large (>40”/100cm) and very small (2.5”/6.5cm) panels. They can be made of scratch-resistant glass, which can resist most fluids found in hospitals. In glass-free areas, infra-red screens can have an acrylic overlay.

Combined with the right software, the use of touchscreens in the healthcare industry can only increase as the complexity and uptake of embedded systems continues.

Larry MozdzynLarry Mozdzyn, Ocular, www.ocularlcd.com

The medical device market will benefit from touchscreen technology advances due to the enhanced functionality and improved antiseptic conditions that touchscreens provide. Projected capacitive (PCAP) touchscreen technology will increase system capabilities by enabling a faster flow of communication.  True multi-touch PCAP panels are now being produced and offer enhanced capabilities when compared to previous, single touch versions.
Replacing mechanical buttons with a touchscreen lowers the risk of dirt, debris and chemicals entering the machine. 

Medical systems have stringent requirements and need secure enclosures to promote a clean environment.  To combat pathogens and disease-spreading germs, electronic systems in medical environments must be tightly sealed to eliminate the possibility of bacteria accumulating in grooves or inside enclosures, an issue that is currently problematic with mechanical switches and buttons. The glass-sealed PCAP touch panel can withstand repeated applications of harsh cleaning fluids, a requirement in medical environments. Many facilities require extreme temperatures and the robust nature of PCAP touchscreens allows this technology to function within these extended temperature ranges.
  
In addition, a few manufacturers are now able to provide PCAP panels that operate when the user is wearing latex gloves. As a result, medical personnel do not need to remove one of their latex gloves to control the device. This adds to the cleanliness of the panel, saves time and reduces waste from frequently removing and discarding gloves. 


Alejandro ErivesAlejandro Erives, Texas Instruments, www.ti.com

Advancements in the technology field have provided doctors and health care practitioners with a vast array of solutions from clear, distinct images to easily accessed information stored at different locations. Utilizing today’s technology, developers are able to not only provide the medical field portable, convenient touchscreen solutions, but even go beyond the touchscreen and provide fully hands-free solutions, which can be controlled by speech recognition and gestures. This significantly eases tasks for medical practioners, who require the constant use of hands or need to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. One example for such a device is the Golden-i, a hands-free lightweight Bluetooth/WiFi headset with a near-eye, 15-inch virutal PC display and near-ear speaker. This hands-free mobile computing system is designed to be a wearable replacement for PCs and handheld devices and allows medical staff to access full-screen documents, view streaming video, discuss options and procedures with associates, and perform other functions–all simultaneously. Additionally, medical staff can record and/or send real-time on-demand 1080p HD still images or streaming video allowing for a more accurate diagnosis. Leveraging semiconductor technology from Texas Instruments including Sitara ARM microprocessors offering more than 1 GHz performance on the ARM Cortex-A8 is one example how medical practitioners can fulfill their demands with more convenience and ease. 

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