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Brainstorm: Medical Electronics

Tue, 05/29/2012 - 1:49pm

What technologies will make medical devices cheaper and more reliable?

Stephen J. Swift, Microsemi Corporation, www.microsemi.com

Medical device companies deploy technologies to address unmet clinical needs, and of course, to make a profit in so doing. In some cases, the cost of new generations of medical devices increases, sometimes substantially, but that’s actually not what’s important. We have to evaluate the total cost of healthcare. In some instances, a substantially more expensive medical device can actually reduce the overall cost of healthcare. For example, profoundly deaf patients are unable to use conventional hearing aids, and require costly support from their healthcare providers and governments for their entire lives. 

A cochlea implant stimulates the auditory nerves directly, and is the first and only technology (so far) to replace a human sense. There have been many studies published which provide strong evidence that a patient with a very expensive cochlea implant costs less to the community over their lifetime than a profoundly deaf person who does not use the technology, particularly when the cochlea implant is performed in profoundly deaf children.  Safety and reliability are both extremely important attributes of a medical device.
 
Electronics technologies at the component level are very reliable in this day and age, but medical devices incorporating electronics are now functionally very sophisticated.  Reliability should be thought of as delivering the intended function for the patient every time. That notion extends to the software and everything else which provides the intended function. Medical devices do fail to operate as intended, so must be designed to “fail safe.”

David Nolte, Ocular, www.ocularlcd.com

Replacing resistive touch screens, or mechanical buttons, with a projected capacitive touch interface will make medical devices more reliable and increase the lifespan of the device. The all-glass construction of projected capacitive touch panels allows for a zero-bezel enclosure which keeps dirt, debris and other contaminants out of the device, protecting the interior components. The glass construction also provides a durable surface that can withstand the harsh cleaning agents used in medical environments.

The ability to function in a wide range of temperatures is also required in the medical field, from operating rooms to standard hospital facilities; the touch panel needs to function when exposed to multiple temperatures. Projected-capacitive touch panels also work with medical gloves so there is no need for the user to remove their glove to operate the device, a result of increased functionality.

Projected-capacitive touch panels have a longer life span than previously used resistive touch screens due to the scratch resistant surface the top layer of glass provides.

Jeff Shiner, Spansion, www.spansion.com

The consumerization of medical equipment and rise of telemedicine are pushing medical devices beyond the doctor’s office.  Flash memory solutions, specifically NOR because of its inherent reliability, are well positioned to provide the onboard storage needed to achieve the full potential of such devices. Flash memory will play a critical role in building out the telecommunications infrastructure necessary to support this growth market and will continue to push innovation in medical devices.

Large technological obstacles remain in two main areas: telecommunications infrastructures to enable vast amounts of data transfers between various sites, and sophisticated technical monitoring and communications devices used by patients and doctors. High reliability code and data storage is required for the build-out of next-generation telecommunications infrastructures.

Parallel NOR Flash memory is perfectly suited for advanced networking gear and helps ensure systems are up and running so doctors get quick access to data. Additionally, a full range of densities in both Serial and Parallel NOR Flash memory, along with fast performance, will be required to meet the growing need for graphics and displays as consumers increasingly demand visual access to data.

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