The ongoing rise in healthcare costs is leading governments and healthcare providers worldwide to seek solutions that will make medicine more efficient. One of the primary areas of focus is in health information technology (health IT), where efficient electronic systems can replace antiquated paper records. These efforts promise to not only lower costs but also enable entirely new methods of delivering medical care. The introduction of new electronics can even bring advanced medicine to groups who previously lacked adequate care.
To reach these lofty goals, OEMs targeting the medical space must play close attention to key technologies including:
- Connectivity to enable information sharing and remote managemnet
- Security to protect patient data and prevent malfunction
- Virtualization to support cost-efficient hardware consolidation
- Performance for analysis of medical images and other patient data
- Power efficiency to enable fanless and portable equipment
These technologies involve complex design challenges – challenges that are significantly easier to manage with the help of a trusted partner. That’s why OEMs can benefit from working with the Intel® Embedded Alliance, whose 200-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and services that can help you speed medical designs to market.
Consider the need for connectivity. Networking is the backbone of health IT, enabling patient information to be shared across devices and locations. But how do you get all of these disparate devices to communicate? The place to start is with a standards-based hardware platform. For example, COM Express modules based on Intel® architecture (IA) processors offer a compelling combination of standardization and flexibility that can significantly speed the design of medical equipment. Software also plays a critical role. For example, Wind River offers a certified healthcare middleware stack that brings basic functions together in a standardized package.
Network connections also increase security risks and present opportunities for remote management. OEMs can address both issues with Intel® vPro™, a suite of hardware-assisted security and management technologies built into 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processors and chipsets. These technologies include:
- Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT), which provides remote management and energy-saving capabilities
- Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT), which supplies security protection over and above ordinary software solutions
- Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), which improves the efficiency and security of virtualized environments
I recently wrote an overview of Intel vPro that explains how these technologies works. I also strongly recommend reading the Emerson article A Prescription for a Secure Hospital to see how Intel vPro can be applied to medical applications.
It’s also worth taking a closer look at virtualization, a technology that enables multiple operating systems to run on a single hardware platform. This capability serves two important goals in healthcare devices. First, it enables separation of safety- and security-critical software from less-critical applications. Second, it enables consolidation of previously separate hardware for smaller, most cost-effective solutions.
To see how you can apply these techniques, see the LynuxWorks article Open, Secure Platforms for Health Information. Figure 1 shows an example of a medical platform using virtualization from this article. You can explore the topic further in my blog Using Virtualization for Safe, Secure Hardware Consolidation.
Figure 1. An example medical platform using virtualization.
Performance is another critical concern for medical equipment, particularly imaging equipment. The latest high-performance IA processors, such as the Intel® Xeon® Processor E3 series, offer several features that benefit these applications, including multi-core architectures and Intel® Advanced Vector Instructions (Intel® AVX). Intel AVX is particularly noteworthy, as it doubles the peak vector-processing throughput of Intel® Streaming SIMD Extensions (Intel® SSE). For more on this technology, check out the blog Vector and Matrix Processing on Intel® Architecture.
Finally, let’s consider power. Low power consumption has many benefits for many medical applications, such as enabling rugged, reliable fanless designs that can be disinfected with a simple wipe down. Power is obviously of particular importance for portable devices, where it impacts battery life. The new Intel® Atom™ processor N2000 and D2000 series (formerly codenamed “Cedar Trail”) is a good choice for these designs. This new family offers up to 10 hours of use and weeks-long standby, enabling medical devices that can potentially go an entire shift without recharge. You can learn more about these processors in our Cedar Trail blog. I also recommend reading my recent low-power blog for additional insights on low-power design.
The links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. To learn more, see intel.com/go/embeddedalliance
Emerson Network Power is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Wind River is an Associte member of the Alliance. LynuxWorks is an Affiliate member of the Alliance
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston