Healthcare garnered a lot of public attention in the past three years, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Many technologies unique to medical offices, clinics, and hospitals such as telemedicine in healthcare rose to prominence.
Much of these technologies rely on medical computers to make the health systems work. Examples run from IDing patients, monitoring their vitals, to scheduling the right doctors to perform surgeries. Here are some of the features that separate medical computers from off-the-shelf brands.
Healthcare facilities are full of medical devices and equipment. Many are essential in keeping patients alive and/or comfortable until they’re healed. These machines can be quite delicate or sensitive to interference from other electronics. Problems can then arise from wrong heart rates being displayed to stray electrical charges jumping from the device to the patient lying nearby Or flammable anesthetic gas could ignite during surgery. And so on.
To prevent such scenarios, many facilities make sure their computers are medical grade. This means they have been designed and built to be safe around patients. Their use doesn’t interfere with the function of other nearby medical devices, nor cause electrical discharges, sparks, or dangerous radiations. And healthcare administrations don’t have to take the computer manufacturers’ word for it: to be labeled as medical grade, the computer is tested and certified by an independent agency.
The healthcare industry tends to be quite conservative with technology. Many, like hospitals, hold on to their equipment as long as possible. One reason is expense, as some devices can cost millions and take years of use to recoup. The uniqueness of the medical device or equipment, or its integration into the facilities’ systems, are other reasons medical groups are loath to ditch them for newer models or even upgrade.
So it’s important the latest medical computers have the capability to connect and work with these “legacy” devices. This can be done by being built with now-discontinued connectors like various RS-232 ports, which were introduced in the Sixties. The medical staff will have access to the latest computer features like USB connectivity while continuing to use their legacy medical equipment.
People need medical attention and care all hours of the day. Hospitals and similar facilities thus must be open and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Medical staff expect their equipment to function near-flawlessly in such conditions where a breakdown can sometimes be a matter of life-or-death for patients.
Over-the-shelf computers, built for the typical 9-5 office setting, would not last long in a typical hospital. Medical computers can, thanks to industrial grade parts. These help them withstand being powered up for days, weeks, or even months. Such materials also help them withstand sharp bumps or even drops onto hard hospital floors without breaking or loss of function.
Design choices also help medical computers withstand their harsh environment. Many use solid-state drives to store data and keep cool without fans. These features mean fewer moving parts to stall or break which in turn increases the computers’ lifespan.
Unsurprisingly, medical facilities are obsessed with cleanliness. Many hours of labor and millions of dollars are spent every year in controlling the amount of bacteria and viruses found throughout rooms and hallways like desktop surfaces to the walls of patients’ rooms.
Medical devices and equipment must undergo such rigorous cleansing. Their constant use means a lot of possibly infectious fingers and hands have touched their surfaces. Unfortunately, the hospital-grade chemicals and detergents to clean them correctly could be damaging to their delicate interiors.
Medical computers are designed to withstand such measures. Their fanless design, mentioned above, not only helps them last under constant use, but prevents harsh chemicals from getting inside to affect the electronics. Many are also IP65 rated. This means their front bezel, or the border between the computer screen and frame of the monitor, has been sealed to withstand a stream of water or other liquids. Staff can blast harsh cleansing fluids on the screen without worry of damaging it.
The recent pandemic put the healthcare industry in the public spotlight as the frontline against COVID-19. Many technologies used from clinics to hospitals rely on computers to effectively work together. The unique conditions of the setting means that medical computers, not off-the-shelf-brands, are the only viable choice.