Coming of Age of a Medical Computer

Coming of Age of a Medical Computer

 

In the 1990s, the term “medical computer” didn’t mean much more than a PC in a doctor’s office, or computers set up specifically for order entry, medical database access, or patient surveys. The equipment itself wasn’t anything special or purpose built for the medical field. Nowadays, a medical grade computer is expected to provide clinical resources, constant uptime, and also protect patients and staff from the spread of infection. Mobile clinical carts use medical panel PCs for in-room patient care, staff use tablets to put in patient meal orders or pharmacy orders, and even the LCD monitors are of a certified medical grade.

 

Modern CDC guidelines require that medical computers be UL/IEC60601-1 certified after in-depth testing for safe use near patients, other medical equipment, and performance compliance. Antimicrobial coatings on medical computers have the capability to kill or inhibit the growth of microbes on their surface or surrounding environment. The antimicrobial agents are formulated for low toxicity, minimal environmental problems, and prolonged lifetime of the computer components the agent is applied to. Tangent’s medical computers are not only 60601 certified and antimicrobial, they are also IP rated to prevent ingress of water or contaminants. The Medix C24 medical computer has an IP65 front panel. It’s also loaded with I/O ports and mounting options so that it can be used for carts, arms, desktops, or anywhere it’s needed.

 

In addition to being suited to safety and sanitation needs, medical grade computers have to stay at the forefront of technological advances in order to serve ever-changing clinical requirements and advances. As soon as touchscreen technology became widely available, they started being integrated into medical devices and hospital workflows. Tangent’s M24T medical computer offers PCAP multi-touch, up to 32GB of memory, Intel Core processors, advanced graphics capabilities, and a built-in webcam. Why is a webcam important?  Telemedicine or “virtual visit” doctor appointments have become a popular alternative to in-person visits. Patients can conduct live video chats with a doctor 24-7 via web meetings. The M24T medical computer also has a UPS battery backup. If a doctor is meeting with a patient and the power goes out, the meeting can still proceed uninterrupted. Tangent’s computers are also validated to work well with popular EMR software packages like Cerner or Epic.

 

Medical computers have come a long way over the decades; they are safer, sturdier, more secure, and reliable than ever. Tangent’s industrial and medical PCs have far too many features to mention in one article, but they are all built to provide the most utility, versatility and value to its users.

 

Medical Computer Excellence

5 Ways Medical Computers Excel over Consumer PCs

5 Ways Medical Computers Excel over Consumer PCs

 

There’s a good reason why the healthcare field is one of the most heavily regulated industries with the most oversight. When it comes to patient care, painstaking efforts are necessary to protect everyone at a medical facility including staff and visitors. Everything including medical equipment needs to meet strict criteria in order to be certified for hospital use from the spread of contagion and harmful pathogens. The following list elaborates on just a few of the features that really set a true medical computer apart from your standard consumer PC.

 

  1. Antimicrobial Coating

Antimicrobial protection on medical computer surfaces is achieved with additives that are baked right into the plastic of the enclosure. These additives have been proven to have long-lasting effectiveness in combating fungi, bacteria, molds and spreadable pathogens. Both the casing & screen of the Tangent’s medical computers have antimicrobial material which prevents germs from growing, lowering patient infection rates. Proper cleaning of the computer equipment helps prevent MRSA, CDIFF, and Hepatitis from growing and spreading. The antimicrobial coating also has the added benefit of minimizing odors, staining, and degradation of  the surfaces where it is applied.

     2. UL/IEC60601-1 Certification

Having a UL/IEC60601-1 Certification demonstrates that a medical computer has been rigorously tested and guaranteed to be protected from electrical frequency leakage, making it safe for use near patients and staff. The medical computer’s certification also indicates that it is shielded and will not interfere with other sensitive medical equipment in the vicinity.

     3. Smart Card Readers, RFID,  Barcode Scanners, Etc

Tangent’s medical computer line has a variety of options that provide many benefits to the clinical work space. An in-system smart card reader allows for secure login and user identification, as well as accept credit card payments. Bar code scanners are great for quickly scanning patient wristbands and medication for either checking in, checking out, or tracking inventory of hospital assets. RFID also provides a fast and easy way to track assets or locate people or equipment within a facility.  Having accessories like these built into a medical computer saves on time and cuts down on wires and attachments that can be lost or stolen.

    4. Hot Swap Batteries/Internal Batteries

Disaster recovery is a main staple of a medical facility’s preparedness package. When there’s a power outage, patient’s lives can be at risk. Hot swappable batteries in some of Tangent’s medical computers can provide up to 10.5 hours of runtime without any interruption. This can be a literal lifesaver during periods of severe power loss.

    5. Fanless Operation

Longevity, reliability, and strong performance are requisite of any medical computer. An excellent advance for computer technology was the introduction of the fanless computer. With no moving fan parts, the system has fewer components that can wear out and fail. In addition to that, a fanless system will not collect dust and contaminants inside of it or blow it around in the air. People with sensitive systems or allergies certainly appreciate that.  

Fanless Computer

No Dust Bunnies This Easter…

No Dust Bunnies This Easter…

 

Finding dust build up inside a fan-cooled computer is like finding traffic in LA. It’s always there no matter how much you try to avoid it. Thousands of hours of fan-driven air movement and electrostatic charges make the internals of a PC or laptop a prime dust magnet. From a functional perspective, collected dust, dirt, hair and debris sucked into the computer can cause overheating by insulating vital components and blocking vents. When intake vents get clogged up, the exhaust fans will pull air through every other hole in the case, eventually clogging them with dust and fuzz particles as well.

 

What does all this dust being circulated around mean for the world outside the computer? Anyone with allergies knows that it means an absolutely miserable day. In a work or hospital setting, the amount of lint and filth floating around from computer fans can be potentially harmful, especially to those experiencing compromised health situations. So how does one ensure better air quality and clean PC internals when considering computer systems for an office? An industrial or medical grade fanless computer from Tangent will absolutely hit that mark.

 

Most every computer that Tangent produces operates completely fanless and without any moving parts. Fanless cooling is achieved through conduction, or passive cooling, techniques along with processing components that give off less heat.  Modern CPUs can run with less power than before and at a cooler rate. Solid state hard drives have no moving parts and therefore are immensely cooler than standard disc hard drives. The LED backlit LCDs on the fanless computers also have low power consumption and heat output, and the cast aluminum or stainless steel chassis casings absorb any internal heat and dissipates it like a heat sink. Fanless computers save on power, reduce all computer noise, and do not circulate dust and contaminants.

Fanless Industrial Computer
Fanless F15 Industrial Computer

Tangent’s professional fanless computer lines, the medical grade T, C, and E series, or the industrial grade KW and S series are the culmination of decades of advances in technology to reduce power consumption, increase speed, maximize durability and reliability, and provide a safe, clean working environment for its users. So much effort has gone into packing Tangent’s fanless computers with tons of features and options while still ensuring that they won’t overheat or fail. Many consumer grade PCs and laptops are moving towards a fanless model, but unless high quality components and construction are employed, as with industrial grade computers, there’s no guarantee for performance or longevity.

 

medical grade computer

3 Essential Features of Medical Computers

3 Essential Features of Medical Computers

 

“Medical grade computer” isn’t a label you can slap on anything off the shelf. Understandably, there are stringent regulations around what can be considered a safe computer component for use around patients in healthcare environments or in highly sanitary conditions. Medical computers are designed to be installed in a variety of areas in a hospital or care center like medical stations and carts, wall mounted arms, or even patient lobbies, and they often have features like barcode scanners, internal batteries, or card readers to further provide desirable clinical utility. The following are three major requirements to be considered a medical computer.

EN60601-certified

UL/IEC60601-1 Certification

This certification is granted when a medical electrical device undergoes and successfully passes testing for safety and performance compliance with CDC guidelines for environmental infection control, electric shock prevention, and isolation precautions. It is a guarantee of reliability and assurance that the medical computer won’t cause harm to clinical staff or patients. Tangent’s line of medical computers have all been thoroughly tested and certified.

 

IP Rating, International Protection Marking

The IP rating of a mechanical casing and/or electrical enclosure classifies and rates the degree of protection it provides against intrusion by any number of external forces. The ratings list specific foreign objects and water pressure forces that the enclosure of the device is effective against. Most of Tangent’s medical computers are sealed and protected with an IP65 rating. This indicates that the medical computer is dust tight and ingress of any foreign particle will not occur. The IP65 rating also means that the device can safely be sprayed down with water jets from a nozzle. Thus, the medical computer can be sanitized with cleansers and water and will not harbor any contaminants or dust, which is crucial for clinical settings.

antimicrobial

Antimicrobial Protection

Tangent’s medical grade computers are manufactured with antimicrobial agents embedded in the enclosure. The antimicrobial agent in the medical computer’s plastic is necessary to address patient and medical staff safety by preventing surface contamination and the spread of harmful pathogens, germs, or mold spores. Infection control initiatives are some of the top priorities in hospitals, making antimicrobial treatment incredibly important for computer equipment that is touched by many people and could transmit bacteria or other organisms to health compromised patients.

 

Serial Ports, A Dated Yet Necessary Feature

Serial Ports, An Included Legacy Component

With as much new technology that Tangent packs into their all-in-one medical computers, one does not expect to see any sort of legacy components included. However, if you look at the I/O ports on the back of the Tangent M24T medical computer, something surprising is present: three RS-232 DB9 ports. For those of us that are not polished up on our knowledge of every serial port that ever existed, the RS-232 is a standard computer serial port for communication that dates back about five decades, and was used for a wide array of purposes like connections to modems, printers, mice, data storage, circuit protection, connectors, optoelectronics, passive components, uninterrupted power supplies, and more. This is all fine and dandy, but the questions still stand. What are serial ports from the 60s doing on new computers? What does this have to do with medical standards? Why don’t they just solely use USB?

Well, simply put, medical devices have varying ways of providing data to computers. Most still have uncomplicated serial ports, while newer ones have HDMI, ethernet or USB ports, depending on the protocol being used for communication.  A true medical computer needs to be able to fit the requirements of each medical device it’s connected to, as well as the clinical workflows of the medical facility and that particular care center’s IT environment. And the old RS-232 interface is an attractive alternative to the more temperamental digital interfaces for many medical device manufacturers because it’s robust, consistent, and easy to use. The adage of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” applies heavily for the serial port standards in a great number of devices. Tangent’s dedication to providing convenience and value to medical care providers led to the inclusion of the trusted legacy ports. The M24T medical computer is able to connect to a kidney monitoring device, an ultrasound device, and a patient monitor using the serial ports, and still have 6 USB ports and an HDMI port free for other uses.

All the newer, fancy bells and whistles are bundled up into this incredible medical computer as well. It features a 24 inch PCAP touchscreen monitor, an Intel 6th generation Core i Series, fast memory up to 32GB, and high-performance NVMe storage. The M24T medical computer also has fanless cooling by way of heat pipes, it’s own internal speakers, and optional webcam and RFID. The medical computer has an uninterrupted power supply battery for up to 30 minutes of operation during a power loss event, and of course, is factory treated with an antimicrobial coating to ward off the spread of infection from bacteria or mold.

It’s easy to dismiss older technology as useless and disposable, but in the medical world, efficiency and consistency in the face of emergency situations often wins out over the new and questionable. Yes, strides are being made to upgrade older hospital systems to modern standards, but change in these sorts of environments can be slow. With so many devices still relying on legacy ports, it makes sense that medical computers still cater to their needs.

Is RFID Safe?

RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology has been found to generate considerable cost savings and increase efficiency in a variety of sectors like supply chain management, asset management, and information technology departments due to its ability to capture data without any human intervention.

 

Utilizing RFID in healthcare has been explored with great interest in recent years not only because of a legislative mandate to use new technology in healthcare, but for its potential to benefit patient safety, provide accurate patient and asset tracking, and enhance efficiencies in patient care. For example, RFID systems can identify medical staff, patients, medications, and blood sampling data all in real time.

 

The adoption of RFID in hospitals has been somewhat slow due to questions about data security, privacy, and concerns about radio frequency interruption due to older infrastructure in many facilities. However, apprehension about these risks largely stem from unfamiliarity with the technology and poor implementation strategies. These issues can be mitigated with in-depth analyses of risk/benefits, return on investment analyses, extensive testing prior to implementation, educating staff on the technology and its benefits, and taking steps for appropriate security measures to ensure patient privacy.

 

Tangent is well aware of the national mandate from the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Clinical Health) Act of 2015 to implement new health information technology and improve healthcare delivery. With that, they aim to stay at the forefront of technology that can be integrated into their medical devices.

medixt13

An excellent example is the Tangent Medix T13  medical tablet PC. This tablet is packed with a treasure trove of useful features for only being 13” inches. The enclosure is factory treated with a medical grade antimicrobial coating and is rated at an IP54 level of protection against contaminant or liquid ingress into the unit. The touchscreen is a PCAP multitouch, the computer’s Ultramobile processor can be an Intel Core i7, i5, or Celeron, and the unit has TPM 2.0 support.

 

The Medix medical tablet has a full-slot smart card reader and SD card readers. This allows for clocking in, secure logging in to the system, accepting payments and a great number of other uses with a card. An optional barcode scanner can allow for scanning of medications or patient wristbands. A  desktop charging cradle, wall and vehicle mounting accessories, and a handheld wrist strap for the T13 medical tablet provide numerous ways to interact with the device.

And keeping with the topic of this blog entry, an optional RFID reader in the T13 medical tablet allows hospital staff to identify, track, and retrieve data on most anything in the facility.

 

As hospitals and clinics are urged to adopt newer technologies by governing bodies, it’s important for providers to stay ahead of the curve on offering these features in their computing devices. Tangent’s mission is to provide medical care providers all the tools they need to give the best care and to stay up-to-date  with regulations and recommendations. When implemented correctly, technologies like RFID can create highly visible benefits to both patients and care facilities.

 

Toss the Mouse and Keyboard, the Future is Touchscreen

Toss the Mouse and Keyboard, the Future is Touchscreen

We are truly living in the age of touchscreen technology. According to eMarketer, 2.4 billion people were using smartphones worldwide in 2017, and 1.2 billion people were using tablet devices. The adoption figures are projected to increase even more over the coming years. An entire generation of children have now grown up using touchscreen tablets and telephones. So considering that most of the world is comfortable with touchscreen computing, it makes perfect sense that touchscreen panel PCs are gaining a lot of traction in businesses.

 

For a very long time, keyboards and mouse devices were cumbersome requisite peripherals to the computing experience. The roller balls in computer mice were like magnets for dust and lint and that would foul up the device very quickly. Optical and wireless mice were an an improvement, but contaminants could still block the sensors and running out of battery was a major inconvenience to one’s work day. The amount of gross things a keyboard can collect over its lifetime is a whole topic on its own. And at the end of the day, if either device failed, one had to pray that they had a backup on hand lest they lose valuable work time.

 

An industrial grade panel PC with a touchscreen that is built to work with gloved hands is perfect for medical settings where contamination or infection control is a critical factor for health and compliance. The Vita KW series of panel PCs from Tangent offers a wide range of sizes from
15 inches to 24 inches and many mounting options to suit a variety of uses, for example, a patient information kiosk, a medical cart panel PC, an in-room computer, a medical records and billing panel PC, and so much more. For medical computers that don’t require the use of gloves, but do need to be kept clean, the KW series panel PC can be sprayed and wiped with disinfectants without any threat of harming the panel PC or worry that it won’t be completely cleaned. The  KW series panel PCs are rated at an IP65, meaning that they highly protected against dust and water ingress. That cannot be said of keyboards or mice for the most part. Unless a waterproof mouse and keyboard are used (which are also offered by Tangent), there’s a good chance that contaminants are lurking in the cracks and crevices of the device.

 

For harsher environments that are even tougher on a panel PC like industrial meat packing plants, food production facilities, and any other enterprise requiring high levels of sanitation and hygiene, the Tangent S Series panel PC is best suited to the job due to it’s IP69K rated, fully waterproof enclosure. The S series touchscreen panel PC can be sprayed with hot, high pressure jets and endure stringent wash downs without any damage to the unit. The S series is also offered in a variety of panel sizes and mounting options. Workers can used gloved or ungloved hands on the touchscreen equally well to conduct their business. It’s quite remarkable how a touchscreen panel can be both sensitive and very durable at the same time. This is the level of ingenuity and quality that Tangent offers.

Medical Computers Explained

Medical Computers Explained

 

Medical computers are constructed and tested to go above and beyond the capabilities, usage, and expected lifespan of standard consumer grade computer systems and components. They are purpose built for use in clinical environments where infection control, patient safety, durability, and uptime are of the utmost importance. Infection control is achieved and supported in a number of ways. Depending on the specific component, the plastics of a true medical computer will either be embedded with antimicrobial additives or treated with an antimicrobial coating on the exterior. This ensures many years of use and cleaning without any degradation of the computer’s antimicrobial properties. Thorough and frequent cleaning and disinfection is required for infection control in medical facilities, so medical computers must be protected from liquid and spray ingress. For that reason they are rated in accordance with the IEC standard 60529 for IP (or “Ingress Protection”). Medical computers are usually rated IP54 or higher, indicating that the enclosure is dust tight and rated to withstand water pressure to varying degrees. Another important measure for patient safety that is a required standard for medical computers is electric shock protection. The IEC 60601-1 is an international technical standard for the safety and required performance of medical electrical equipment. A medical device with this certification indicates that it is protected from electrical frequency leakage making it safe to be used in close proximity to a patient, and it is shielded as to not interfere with other sensitive medical equipment.

 

Medical Computer Variations

 

Medical Computers tend to fall into two main categories: all-in-one panel formats that are typically used on medical carts, arms or on a desk stand, and handheld tablets for lightweight, portable computing.

All-In-One-Medical-Computer
All-in-one medical computer
Medical Tablets
Medical Computer Tablets

All-in-one medical panel PCs come in a variety of screen sizes and features to suit the needs of a medical practice. Fanless operation, PCAP multi-touch touchscreens, hot-swappable batteries, smart card readers, and VESA standard mounting are popular features on such medical computers. Hot-swap batteries allow the workstation to run on batteries uninterrupted throughout the work day, and PCAP multi-touch provides a highly responsive touchscreen experience. Smart-card readers provide a fast and secure method for user identification and login. Medical panel computers are often offered with a fanless option which means lower power consumption, no buildup of dust in the computer, no dust particles being circulated, and no moving parts within the PC.

Medical grade tablets are built with very durable, rugged exteriors to protect against drops, and they are protected from damage resulting from shock and vibration.  They can range from very compact to relatively large, but are built with being lightweight in mind. Medical tablets can be equipped with many of the same features of the larger all-in-one panel PCs like barcode scanners, hot-swap batteries, and RFID, but offer a greater mobility for tasks that involve traveling amongst several locations. Many tablets can be fitted with hand straps or set into a docking station.

 

Methods for Selecting a Medical Computer Manufacturer

 

Once the decision to invest in medical computers is made, the next task is to select a manufacturer that not only can provide an appropriately catered and certified solution package, but will also partner to provide efficient and expert support along with excellent product warranties. Tangent’s innovative products have received numerous industry awards including Network Products’ Product Innovation Award, and has had Windows Magazine recommend their products. Tangent’s medical computers are validated by Cerner and are Epic compliant.

 Cerner

The demands of patient care and strict quality assurance regulations require medical computer systems to maintain continued uptimes far over anything consumer devices can offer, and they also require a computer vendor to be equally available. Tangent has service and sales offices located throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and China to provide support when and where they are needed.

Computer Redundancy: A Matter of Life or Death in Medical Environments

Computer Redundancy: A Matter of Life or Death in Medical Environments

For most people, a power outage constitutes a moderate inconvenience. Cooking dinner or watching TV is out of the question for a few hours, but soon enough life returns to normal with little consequence. For a medical facility, however, a power outage can be quite catastrophic and even life threatening for patients. A sustained loss of power can cause downtime on respiratory devices, medical computers, monitoring devices, and critical equipment for patients in neonatal,  intensive care or cardiac units. Emergency or time critical procedures cannot be performed and loss of refrigeration can severely affect medications and stored blood and tissues. Without any power, medical computers cannot access electronic patient medical records and other hospital data, and orders for medication or procedures cannot be completed. With worsening weather patterns around the world and the prevalence of rolling blackouts, the outlook seems fairly bleak, but this is not the case for well prepared hospitals and care providers. Many facilities now employ a mix of powerful backup generators and equipment with hot-swappable batteries or UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems for critical devices.

Purpose built medical grade computers can make a huge positive impact on service delivery during a power loss event. Tangent offers several all-in-one medical computers that offer battery backup options for such occasions. The Tangent T24B medical computer was designed with three easy-to-use hot-swappable batteries and battery bays to ensure a 24/7 runtime. This provides up to 10.5 hours of runtime without any interruption of power to the user. The T24B also offers antimicrobial treatment to deter the spread of infection, a 24 inch PCAP ten point multi-touch touchscreen, is shielded to prevent interference with other sensitive medical equipment, and has several options for mounting including cart arms, wall mounts, or a stand.

The Tangent M24T 24″ medical computer has an internal UPS battery backup that offers 30 minutes of uninterrupted power. This allows staff to continue working for a time without having to swap out any batteries. The M24T is a high performance machine that can be equipped with up to 32G of memory. The Tangent C24 24” medical computer also has an internal UPS battery backup that allows for 20 minutes of use without any external power. The C22 works very well on medical carts and arms due to it’s convenient front panel buttons, antimicrobial surface, and PCAP touchscreen. All the medical computers mentioned here are offered in a variety of screen sizes and with a variety of available system upgrades and optional accessories to best suit the needs of the care providers and their patients. Disaster recovery is a major focal point for many medical organizations, but the best prepared hospital systems avoid many potential disasters by using equipment and medical devices that offer internal or external battery backups. Several of Tangent’s medical grade all-in-one computers were designed for the continuity of patient care even in the face of unforeseen losses of power, while also delivering top level performance 24 hours a day.

Computer Arm Mounts Increase Efficiency

Computer Arm Mounts Increase Efficiency

A medical charting station sounds like a pretty high end technical workstation, but for the longest time, it simply meant a wooden or metal cabinet or desk built into a wall of a clinical room that held physical medical charts. It was space efficient, yes, but hardly any wonder of modern discovery. They did think to put locks on them, so the old timers at least get points for patient privacy there. Once computers became cost effective and small enough, health facilities started cramming them into those cabinet work spaces whose openings strikingly resembled the seat-back tray tables on airlines. As quickly as they could, medical charting practices advanced onto sophisticated electronic medical records software platforms. Though the paper charts were a thing of the past, the computer systems that accessed the EMRs were about as flexible as having your laptop propped up on that airline tray table. The next evolution for the medical charting station is now the use of medical computer arms married with a folding IT station. Adjustability, dexterity, durability, and space efficiency create a winning combination that medical practices seek out in their medical computer equipment.

The Tangent Easy-Fold IT Station with medical computer arm offers its users customized configuration options to mount a flat panel display, keyboard and computer conveniently to a wall for maximum flexibility and ergonomic performance. The features on the medical arm system are numerous and impressive. The entire system easily folds back to less than 9 inches (22.9cm) from the wall and users can adjust from sitting to standing in one fluid motion. The adjustable arm helps to position the monitor and keyboard for maximum productivity for care providers who are on their feet all day and also to allow patients to see the screen without having to move or strain themselves. This has been helpful to me at the dentist’s office when they wanted to show me my x-rays while I had a suction tube in my numbed mouth. Better that they moved the monitor to my level, lest I haplessly drool all over their equipment. There is 17 inches of overall vertical adjustment range on the medical computer arm that can accommodate users of any height, and they can easily lock that adjusted computer height in place to avoid sudden movements or accidents. The monitor itself has 6.5 inches of independent height adjustment and the keyboard folds up to sit flush with the system when it’s pushed back to the wall.

More features include optional CPU mounts, VESA 75/100 mounting options, and trays for items like barcode scanners or computer mouses. The construction of the Tangent Easy-Fold IT station and medical arm is of durable aluminum and, being of medical grade, comes with a sealed keyboard tray for better infection control. Tangent protects most of their computer products with antimicrobial additives or constructs them to withstand heavy cleaning for patient safety and hospital compliance. Coupling a medical purpose built Tangent computer system with an IT workstation and medical arms of this nature provides a high degree of assurance in both safety and flexibility.