While health care insurance and public policy spark heated debate, it’s difficult to dispute the value of medical devices and equipment that can minimize operating costs and improve patient care. The burden on medical device developers is to provide advanced technologies that fulfill the health care industry’s need for fast, secure, convenient solutions certified to strict rules and regulations.


In a market exploding with growth driven by trends such as an aging population, shortage of health care professionals, skyrocketing costs, and federal incentives to digitize health records, several Intel® Embedded Alliance companies are taking advantage of the momentum and developing innovative products optimized for medical applications.


This blog series will highlight a number of technical challenges specific to medical device design and explore how Alliance member companies are resolving these problems using embedded Intel technology. Beginning with this post, the series will break down into three segments exploring interrelated requirements:


  1. Portability, small size, low power consumption
  2. Fast, powerful performance and long life support
  3. Accuracy, reliability, interoperability

To start things off, the considerations of portability, small size, and low power consumption are becoming more critical as the medical community increases its mobility. In a recent report, Gartner identified mobile health monitoring as one of the top 10 consumer mobile technologies for 2012, citing its potential for reducing costs and improving quality of life for patients.


Mobile health care calls for portable medical systems that must be small, lightweight, and able to be unplugged and powered by batteries, which last longer if the CPU uses less power, says Jennifer Zickel, COM Express product line manager at RadiSys, a Premier member of the Alliance.


“Active fans for thermal dissipation cannot be used in portable or cart-based equipment, which must be passive for reliability, so this drives the processor requirement for low power,” she says.


Further complicating matters, patient monitoring instrumentation is rapidly changing from a basic portable unit to a networked, multiparameter product with advanced graphics and touch-screen capabilities, Zickel adds. This consequently requires the integration of wireless connectivity, which must be reliable and secure to comply with HIPAA and other regulations, as pointed out by Joseph Chung, medical product manager at Advantech, another Premier member of the Alliance, during a recent webcast. Designers must include support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies to give health care professionals access to vital information at the point of care.


“Nurses want to have a lightweight, compact product that they can carry around easily and use beside a patient’s bed,” says Lydia Cheng, also a medical product manager for Advantech.


Cheng explains that compact design and low power consumption were the two major requirements for Advantech engineers developing the MICA-101, a medical tablet PC based on the Intel Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA) reference architecture. Using the Intel Atom Z510/Z530 processor helped the design team meet these goals by providing 1.1/1.6 GHz performance with 2 W max Thermal Design Power (TDP). Products based on the Intel MCA reference design, such as the Motion Computing C5 pictured here in use at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, give health care providers a consolidated view of patient data in a convenient platform optimized for clinical environments.



Alliance Affiliate member Arbor Technology also bases most of its medical products, including the M1255 medical tablet PC and M1726 bedside infotainment computer, on the Intel Atom microarchitecture to satisfy the considerations of fanless and mobile computing, says Arbor market development manager Kevin Huang.


“For medical application and hospital environment requirements of low noise, anti-splash, disinfection, ruggedness, and mobility, the Intel Atom processor can help us have a better mechanical design and the best performance/watt to meet these requirements,” Huang says.


Besides portable nursing carts and bedside computers, medical applications often involve information systems that call for higher-performance platforms powered by dual-core processors like the Intel Core 2 Duo, says Joey Hsu, product manager for the eService Platform Division of Avalue Technology, an Affiliate member of the Alliance. But for small, low-power applications, solutions such as Avalue’s MTP-1503 bedside infotainment station and MTP-1203 modality gateway to hospital information systems, both with the Intel Atom N270 processor, provide the low power consumption needed in thin client terminals, Hsu says.


“Low-power systems or devices will prolong power endurance to avoid the trouble of back-and-forth recharging as devices are used on the go,” he remarks.


Small form factor boards using Intel processors are particularly suited to mobile medical applications, as they offer low power consumption, integrated graphics, Ethernet, and support for a variety of operating systems, Zickel says.


“COM Express modules enable medical equipment I/O to be customized while giving the equipment a wider processor and power selection to meet market demand,” she says. “Motherboards provide a fast time-to-market but more generalized approach, and SBCs provide the smallest and most cost-sensitive solution to medical equipment needs.”


RadiSys’ Atom-based COM Express and Pico-ITX products such as the Procelerant Z500 and PCIOZ500 have been successfully deployed in patient monitoring and portable ultrasound equipment, Zickel says. While size and mobility are crucial considerations in these systems, other medical applications involving complex image processing and other high-level functions demand more attention to performance and endurance. Next week’s post will delve into requirements for fast processing and long life support and discuss how Intel Architecture technologies are enabling Alliance members to resolve these design issues.


With all the buzz about health care being generated today, what kinds of opportunities are you seeing for embedded products in the medical device market? How is your company meeting the needs of small size, portability, and low power for medical devices?


Jennifer Hesse
OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance