The last two years have been difficult. We have been forced to pack up decades of innovation and technology adoption in just two years. Many companies have also suffered financially due to social distancing measures, components shortage, and logistics delays. You can read more about this in our blog post about the consequences of the pandemic and how they are affecting equipment manufacturing.
What challenges does 2022 has in store for the medical industry in terms of hardware? Many of the challenges we will continue to see this year are still a result of the Covid pandemic. Let’s look at some specifics:
Telehealth and Patient Experience
It is also known as Telemedicine, and it strives to provide a safer (due to Covid) and more effective medical experience. The most common application is virtual medical appointments to avoid physical contact because of social distancing measures. However, Telehealth also seeks to improve patient experience (Remember User Experience?) in which information is centralized, made available in a timely manner while reducing physical contact. This trend is particularly helpful for patients with chronic diseases which can be monitored remotely. In these cases, doctors can be automatically alerted by machines that medical attention is needed. In addition, telemedicine was created to help streamline cooperation from different medical parties involved: surgeons, hospital administration, pharmacies, private doctors, laboratories, etc.
Telehealth creates a complete ecosystem of equipment that must connect to the Internet (or at least an intranet) and handle large amounts of data. In terms of hardware, this forces medical OEMs to address concerns pertaining to processing capabilities, security, 24/7 operation, and compatibility. From the board and sensors all the way to servers and computers, medical OEMs must include hardware in their design to reduce single point of failures, silos, vulnerabilities and improve compatibility while guaranteeing top processing performance.
Distributed Architecture Management and Security
Most medical applications are organized as distributed architectures. As a result, different facilities can be part of the same application with some servers or equipment installed in restricted areas and different points of access or machines in common areas. Consequently, medical OEMs will need to take into account security measures, power consumption restrictions and inventory management concerns while designing and manufacturing their products.
Although physical intrusions are rare, you must protect your hardware against attacks. Cyberattacks can be costly and have devastating consequences. In distributed architectures, vulnerabilities arise when equipment is not installed in restricted areas and several people uses the same hardware. If you want to read more about security measures, you can read our Cybersecurity Blog Series.
Having scattered equipment in several or even the same facility can become an inventory management nightmare. Currently most stock inventory is kept manually, which means that maintenance is manual as well. As the medical industry becomes increasingly interconnected, medical OEMs will need to create automated systems and monitoring software that will help keep track of inventory. As a result, hardware will have to provide additional processing capabilities or supplementary hardware will be required to manage inventory.
Power consumption is also an issue in distributed architectures. Let’s take for example crash carts or pharmacy mobile robots. Those applications require someone to return the equipment to a charging station once it has been used or once battery has depleted. Moreover, the battery of those machines needs to last for as long as possible. Even though power storing technologies have come a long way in the last 10 years, they still offer limited resources to mobile applications. One of the most effective ways to tackle this issue has been by sizing correctly low-consumption hardware components within the system. Some mobile equipment feature sequences to either annoyingly alert people to recharge the equipment or to take themselves back to charging stations. In both cases, hardware needs to be sized correctly to leverage available power and medical OEMs will probably need to invest on the software/programming sequences to attain higher levels of automation.
Industry 4.0 Trends
As the medical industry is being affected by Industry 4.0 trends like robotics, artificial intelligence and pattern recognition, medical equipment will continue to face increasing pressure to process and store large amounts of data. As we have discussed in our Robotic Blog Series, not all processing can be performed locally within the specialized medical equipment and, in some cases, medical OEMs will need to design a complete system with an off-brain architecture. This means that data will be gathered locally within the equipment which will be later sent to a remote server for processing. By connecting equipment to any network, you will face security concerns due to possible cyberattacks. For medical OEMs customers, these trends also translate into higher capital investments in hardware to be able to appropriately interconnect to the ecosystem. However, nowadays the priority is still in the research stages. We still have long way to overcome precision and safety issues with some of these trends.
If you want to continue reading about hardware for Medical OEMs, you can check out this page.