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After a lull in which economic crises and healthcare policy changes slowed medical imaging equipment sales, the picture is definitely brightening. Frost & Sullivan expects the global market to hit $30 billion USD by 2017, with much of the growth coming from emerging markets (source: 2013 Global Medical Imaging Equipment Market Outlook Report). All segments offer opportunities: Low-end modalities such as ultrasound are migrating into new form factors and applications, while high-end modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are increasingly being adopted in emerging markets.

 

Performance drives imaging innovation                                   

Parallel processing is key to medical imaging, and the 4th generation Intel® Core™ processors and Intel® Xeon® processor E3 v3 deliver parallelism in spades. In addition to offering four cores with up to 15 percent faster performance than previous generations, these processors benefit from the Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) 2.0.

 

Intel® AVX2 provides an infrastructure and building blocks for meeting the escalating performance requirements of medical imaging applications through wider vectors, a new extensible syntax, and rich functionality. This upgraded vector-processing technology introduces a fused multiply-add (FMA3) that effectively doubles the peak floating point throughput in comparison to the previous generation. Multiply-add workloads are a critical component of image processing, so this upgrade will significantly benefit medical imaging applications. Intel AVX2 also expands most integer Intel AVX instructions from 128 bits to 256 bits, doubling fixed-point performance. And with gather support, Intel AVX2 now enables vector elements to be loaded from non-contiguous memory locations to simplify code vectorization.

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Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel® AVX) 2.0 doubles peak floating-point and fixed-point throughput.


The Intel Haswell micro-architecture also offers an upgraded graphics engine with a 60% 3D graphics improvement over previous generations. Enhanced high-resolution display capabilities support up to 4K resolution on three independent displays. What’s more, the new “collage display” mode can present multiple displays to the OS as a unified resolution. These features are all invaluable for display of high-resolution medical images, and they reduce the need for expensive and power-hungry discrete graphics cards.

 

Intel architecture (IA) offers scalability advantage

IA processors offer the performance, energy efficiency, and features for a wide range of modalities, from advanced CT, MRI, and molecular imaging scanners, to mammography, X-ray, and ultrasound. The new Haswell microarchitecture, as implemented in the 4th generation Intel Core and Intel Xeon processor E3 v3, delivers the superior image-processing performance and enhanced security for next-generation devices such as portable ultrasounds and dental radiography. At the other end of the spectrum, the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v2—based on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture—offers exceptionally high performance along with energy efficiency for lower total cost of ownership for the most demanding imaging applications.

This scalability offers several important advantages. First, medical OEMs can scale their products to different price and performance points, and can quickly diversify into new markets. Second, the consistent architecture and toolsets speed and simplify development, letting OEMs focus on their application expertise instead of learning new hardware. Finally, the entire IA roadmap is now marching forward with a “tick-tock” cadence that is consistently delivering new levels of performance and power efficiency. This gives developers a clear upgrade path and helps them maintain software designs across product generations.

 

Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance products employ Intel AVX2 with Intel Core and Intel Xeon processors in form factors such as COM Express that are ideal for medical imaging applications 


Portwell PCOM-B630VG COM Express Module

The Portwell PCOM-B630VG COM Express module brings quad-core technology and significant performance improvements with the 4th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, while the Intel® QM87 integrated GMA graphics provides better performance and variable display interfaces for imaging-intensive applications. The module is designed to comply with both socket type and BGA type Intel® Core™ i7 processor for intensive computing, and the architecture of the module and carrier boards speeds time to market of tailor-made equipment. Features include the Intel Haswell Core i5/i7 BGA Type CPU, integrated memory controller that supports up to 32GB ECC DDR3-1333/1600, Intel® QM87 integrated GMA graphic, and support for 6GT/s SATA.

Portwell PCOM-B630VG.jpg

Intel Haswell-based Core i7/i5 CPU based Type VI COM Express module with ECC DDR3 SDRAM, Gigabit Ethernet, SATA and USB from American Portwell.


Kontron COMe-bHL6 COM Express Module

By integrating the new Intel® AVX2 and OpenCL 1.2, Kontron’s new COM Express module provides an increase in floating-point performance as well as improved parallel processing capacities for medical imaging and other imaging-intensive applications. The new application-ready COMe-bHL6 offers increased performance density and up to twice the graphics performance compared to its predecessors. Up to three independent, daisy-chained displays with up to 4K resolution are supported to create stunning user experiences. The module is available in versions up to quad-core Intel® Core™ i7 processors with up to 4x 2.4 GHz and features comprehensive display support with 3x dual-mode DisplayPort++ which can also output HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort 1.2. Kontron also offers standardized migration support services to accelerate design-in for fast field deployment.

 

Kontron COMe-bHL6.jpg

Kontron COMe-bHL6 4th Generation Intel® Core i-Series COM Express™ with Intel® Core™ i7


Intel® System Studio supports medical imaging system innovation

On the development side, the IA platform is supported by a rich set of tools, libraries, and development kits that provide portable, optimized signal processing from Intel® Atom™ processors to Intel® Xeon® processors. One key example is the Intel® System Studio, an integrated software development suite that provides deep hardware and software insights to speed development, testing, and optimization of Intel-based embedded and mobile systems. For developers of advanced medical imaging systems, this support is critical to maximize processor performance.

Common aspects of medical imaging workloads include echo addition and cancellation, pattern recognition, noise reduction, anti-aliasing, compression, smoothing, morphing, correlation, and filtering. These types of workloads, which involve processing large amounts of changing data such as MRI images, benefit from the data parallelism and vector registers supported by AVX2, as well as language extensions in the Intel architecture that provide floating point capabilities for data manipulation, data swapping, and matrix multiplication—all required for signal and data processing. The Intel System Studio optimizes AVX code for signal and media processing to speed the data flow and significantly improve performance.

 

Kontron and Portwell are Premier members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

 

Cheryl Coupé

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Freelance technology writer and editor

 

LEARN MORE >>

 

Solutions in this blog:

 

 

Related topics:

•             Medical - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

•             Performance - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

The cloud is revolutionizing healthcare, helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease by remotely monitoring their condition and automatically and securely uploading data to their care provider. Now the same technology is being used to update fitness centers, to the benefit of both owners and exercisers.

 

Fitness centers and health clubs are filled with equipment with the potential to provide valuable data: check-in systems, vending machines, people counters, exercise equipment, surveillance systems, etc. But for many clubs, these systems aren’t network-enabled—and even if they were, the club may not have the IT resources to set up and manage a complex system. The result is that equipment maintenance and stocking may be handled manually, without information that could help club owners monitor usage, anticipate maintenance, and schedule downtimes conveniently. At the same time, exercisers armed with smartphones and health apps want to access equipment information so they can upload, track, and share data about their workouts.

 

All of these goals can be accomplished by taking the fitness center to the cloud.

 

Eurotech’s smart services gateways are flexible, high-performance devices that support the data acquisition and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications needs of fitness centers. These devices can be easily integrated into the existing IT infrastructure of a fitness center or health club—or can be installed as a standalone device that requires minimal IT support once installed. These gateways leverage industry-standard Intel building blocks, including the Intel® Atom™ processor and the Wind River Linux operating system. On top of that foundation sits the Eurotech Everywhere™ Software Framework (ESF)—integrated middleware that is based on an OSGI framework to simplify application development. The Eurotech ESF includes software bundles that can be used across applications and across industries, including a seamless connection to the Eurotech Everywhere Device Cloud (EDC) platform.

 

Cloud Connected Fitness.jpg

“The Intel architecture has allowed us to focus on our Everywhere Software Framework and we can move it across Intel platforms very easily,” says Bill Johnson, cloud solutions business development manager-for Eurotech North America. “Having a standard, very well-documented architecture such as Intel has enabled us to bring multiple platforms with different price-performance features to market.”

 

Eurotech also chose Wind River Linux for its gateways.  “We wanted a best-in-breed, reliable Linux distribution,” Johnson adds.  “We have world-class customers developing applications on these gateways, and Wind River’s tool sets and the backing of Intel made this a very easy decision for us.”

 

The Eurotech wireless-enabled gateways can aggregate sensor data from almost any kind of equipment in the health club, including RFID readers, people counters, surveillance systems, vending machines, and exercise equipment. With the gateway installed and connected to the devices in the fitness center through the Eurotech Device Cloud, club owners have access to data they can use to better manage assets. For example, they can access usage records to see which equipment has higher (or lower) usage and use that information to adjust traffic patterns or rearrange floor layouts. They can also receive service alerts for equipment, so that machines can be taken offline and maintained before they go down during a period of high demand. Data from vending machines or point-of-sale terminals can be used to manage inventory, and RFID tags on high-end assets allow them to be tracked and monitored. Exercisers can also be provided access to cloud-based data from the equipment to track and share their workouts and even receive relevant ads.

 

fitness club application.jpg

 

Key to fitness center applications is ease-of-use, Johnson explains. “One of product definitions was that it needs to be similar to a set-top box. They just need to put it in place and it does what it needs to do with no technical interaction.”

 

Eurotech provides several gateway options depending on the club’s needs, the number of devices that need to be aggregated, and the number of Ethernet ports or communications protocols needed. Health clubs can choose their platform depending on their I/O requirements, but the Eurotech platforms all host the same software stack and all communicate with the Eurotech M2M platform as well as Eurotech’s application partners’ platforms. Once installed, the systems can essentially be forgotten, with no ongoing technical support required. Security is also built into the software stack, so the bi-directional device communications are secure sessions as appropriate for each market.

 

The Eurotech Helios™ is a smart services gateway with flexibility in programmability, hardware, software, and connectivity, including a range of pre-certified wireless modules for cellular, Bluetooth, and other protocols. The ReliaGATE family is an industrial-grade platform with multiple options, including globally certified radio technology from Telit.

 

Eurotech’s Everywhere Software Framework sits on the gateway and hosts the appropriate applications and protocols, including the cloud client protocol; as long as the gateway has a path to the Internet and is collecting data from a device, it can send the data to Eurotech’s Everywhere Cloud platform. Standard dashboards, management operations, and industry-standard APIs support easy integration both to legacy equipment (updated with Eurotech or partner-provided wired or wireless connectivity devices) or to new equipment with embedded connectivity.

 

Eurotech has plenty of experience providing gateways for applications such as in-home patient monitoring: aggregating data from scales, blood pressure cuffs, and blood glucose meters to help improve patient quality of life. Moving to the health club was a logical evolution. As Johnson says, “It was just natural for us to take that platform and use it as the basis for this new initiative.”

 

Learn More

 

Solutions in this blog:

•             Eurotech Everywhere™ Software Framework

•             Eurotech Everywhere Device Cloud (EDC) platform

•             Helios™ smart services gateway

•             ReliaGATE industrial-grade gateway family

                              

 

Related topics:

•             Medical - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

•             Connectivity - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

 

 

Eurotech is an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

     Contact Eurotech>>


Cheryl Coupé

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Freelance technology writer and editor (scribo.net)

New machine-to-machine (M2M)-based cloud applications for home monitoring can help patients manage their health conditions at home, while giving healthcare providers access to up-to-date patient information. But these professional monitoring devices have consumer-like demands. They need to be easy to set up, connect, and use. They need to protect patients’ sensitive personal health information. And developers of these systems need to be able to quickly respond to market changes with new products, using standards-based platforms and network protocols. Our roundtable discussion explores how the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework supports remote monitoring systems that deliver the management, connectivity, and security features required for effective patient care. Our roundtable participants are:

 

roundtable.jpg

 

Intel Roving Reporter: The market for remote medical monitoring devices is heating up, putting additional pressure on developers to get to market faster with competitive products. How can you help them get there?


Satish Ram, Kontron: Kontron provides a suite of application-ready platforms that are Intel Intelligent Systems Framework (ISF) ready, by offering various connectivity, scalability and security options as well as meeting healthcare-specific compliance requirements (PCI, HIPAA, EN50134, etc.). Our human-machine interface (HMI) and M2M products are examples of such products targeted at the healthcare vertical. These platforms come with a development platform that is already pre-integrated to connect up to other ISF-ready systems.

Kontron M2M platform.png

 

The Kontron M2M Developer Kit is a compact platform that integrates its COM Express® mini Pin-out Type 10 compatible COMe-mTT family of Computer on Modules (COMs) based on the Intel® Atom™ processor E640 1 GHz. The external USB port simplifies use of M2M SDKs, and offers sufficient storage for M2M smart service applications, middleware and OS on the 4 gigabyte (GB) internal MicroSD card. The kit also supports a full range of wireless interfaces, protocols and network topologies.

 

Mike Ueland, Telit Wireless Solutions: Telit offers an extensive portfolio of quality cellular, short-range, and GNSS modules, available in over 80 countries. By supplying business-scalable products that are interchangeable across families, technologies, and generations, Telit is able to keep development costs low and uniquely protect customers' design investments. Telit provides customer support, design-in expertise through its sales and support offices, and offers a global distributor network of wireless experts in over 30 Telit-designated competence centers that work with customers to develop concepts and ideas to realize their solutions.

 

Telit offers a form factor family concept, allowing developers to develop one application for different markets. M2M modules belonging to a family have the same form factor and functionalities—the same size and shape, same pin-outs, and same AT command set. Design once, deploy globally. The advantage for remote medical monitoring device developers and electronic manufactures is that all modules in a family are interchangeable. When the time comes, developers can easily replace family modules with successor products such as would happen in a switch from 2G to 3G. The unified form factor feature reduces development effort, time, and costs, protecting investment in core designs.

Telit xE910 Family.jpg

 

Steve Popovich, Digi International: Digi provides several easy-to-integrate connectivity products and services used for connecting medical devices and sensors in thousands of hospitals and home healthcare applications. We have commercial medical device customers that create prototype remote monitoring systems in just a few days.

Digi hmhealthmonitor.jpg

RR: What do designers need to know about connectivity standards—from wireless to cellular—as they develop these devices that may be sold for use anywhere?


Satish Ram, Kontron: Solutions designers need to become familiar with WPAN, WLAN, and WWAN connectivity options and the current adoption trends towards Bluetooth Low Energy for medical devices. In addition, for use of cellular WWAN solutions, designers need to ensure compliance with regulatory certifications such as FCC, CE, PTCRB, GCF or others depending on the country and deployment regions. Also, wireless data services can vary significantly from one country to another as do wireless frequency bands for cellular networks. Kontron can help customers navigate this complex ecosystem and make it easier for deploying solutions quickly.

 

Mike Ueland, Telit Wireless Solutions: There are a number of requirements to consider, including speed, coverage, deployment plans, costs , data plans and hardware, carrier relations, and the expected product lifecycle. In the majority of cases, the cellular module is the most important component in the process of integrating M2M into electronic devices like those used for remote medical monitoring.

 

Cellular data transmission speeds go up from 2G where GPRS speeds are rated in a few tens of Kbps to the current release of LTE (4G) of 100 Mbps. There are a number of trade-offs. The higher the connection speed you require, the higher the price of the module and associated connectivity data plans. Today, 3G enjoys nearly as much geographical and population coverage as 2G. 3G will soon have a larger footprint than GSM when U.S. carriers start sun-setting their 2G service. Therefore, 3G will continue to be the long term “everywhere” cellular coverage for many more years.

 

Steve Popovich, Digi International: One of cool benefits of our iDigi connectivity architecture is we can support ALL of the domestic and international wireless standards and little or no wireless experience is required by the developer! Developers using our iDigi architecture only need to create the business application and not be concerned with the details of what wireless technology is needed for deployment. For example we have healthcare customers that create a single business application that can incorporate several different wireless connectivity technologies to economically support multiple unique end customer use cases.

 

RR: Since these remote devices are being used by consumers, not healthcare or technical professionals, what are some strategies you advise developers to use to make sure these are easy to set up, connect, maintain, and use?


Satish Ram, Kontron: Focusing on ease of use and ‘ready out of the box’ solutions is key for consumer adoption. Leveraging frameworks such as ISF will help developers ensure seamless integration to various subsystems and automate much of the functionality to improve user experience. As an example, home healthcare devices should automatically detect new devices and ‘pair’ with them without any user intervention. So, the consumer can purchase a BLE weight scale that auto-connects and displays the data on his/her smartphone with a simple downloaded app.

 

Mike Ueland, Telit Wireless Solutions: There are development tools that can aid or make it easier for developers to design applications. Many firms have been successful using the Agile software development process. The Agile process promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and design with an interactive approach that encourages faster responses that are flexible to change. The Agile manifesto establishes that developers, in their approach to application development, limit the amount of work in progress to reduce the impact of sudden business changes.

 

Customer collaboration and the user experience with the application are critical in the development process. Therefore, continuous customer and stakeholder involvement is required. In order to deliver on this key aspect, Agile establishes smaller, faster development cycles that deliver functioning software sooner, which in turn limits the total body of work in progress. This has the effect of testing hypotheses about required functionality much earlier than other methods allowing developers and business sponsors to quickly prove or disprove them. The bottom line is that developers need be strategic about developing applications for the consumer.

 

Steve Popovich, Digi International: Our iDigi Manager Pro services provide an almost infinitely scalable connectivity platform for our customers. Our iDigi Manager pro services enable our customers to automate the remote configuration, commissioning, and ongoing management of millions of devices. Via our iDigi APIs developers can also elegantly integrate our features into custom applications.

 

RR: Security is always an issue when discussing the management of personal health information. How are you helping developers address this in their products?


Satish Ram, Kontron: Security is of paramount importance in many applications, and especially so in healthcare applications. Kontron’s products leverage the ISF security framework components, including Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and WindRiver Secure Remote Management (SRM) software, to ensure data privacy and security.

 

Mike Ueland, Telit Wireless Solutions: Cellular data communication is inherently very secure—substantially more so than traditional data communication. In addition to the security already built into cellular data, we provide the remote medical monitoring device integrator with a comprehensive set of IP protocols designed to enhance this security. A key element of this toolkit is the embedded SSL protocol available in all our modules. The use of SSL over cellular IP data, augmented by best practices in two-way challenges and other identification, authentication and security measures ensures that personal health information is communicated in the most secure manner possible.

 

Steve Popovich, Digi International: Digi provides several security options for both wired and wireless products and services. For example even our most basic wireless modules integrated inside of medical devices support complex encryption methods that prevent data from being read by network analyzers. For security purposes medical device and patient identification information is only combined beyond connectivity services platform.

 

 

 

Learn More

 

Solutions in this blog:

•            Intel Intelligent Systems Framework

•            Kontron M2M Smart Services Developer Kit

•            Telit Wireless Solutions HE910 Family

•            Telit Wireless Solutions GE910 Family

•            Digi International x2E Gateway

•            Digi International iDigi Manager Pro

                              

 

Related topics:

•            Medical - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

•            Connectivity - Top Picks (blogs, white papers, and more)

 

 

Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

    Contact Kontron>>

Digi International is an Associate members of the Alliance.

    Contact Digi>>

Telit Wireless Solutions is an Associate members of the Alliance.

    Contact Telit>>

 

Cheryl Coupé

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Freelance technology writer & editor (scribo.net)

People who are under medical care are often at their most vulnerable. The equipment used to monitor, medicate, diagnose, and treat them can’t be.

 

In the past, medical device security focused on the endpoint—the device itself. But Tony Magallanez, senior systems engineer for McAfee’s embedded sales group, explains that the days of focusing solely on device-level security is over; today’s medical devices need to be at the center of a web of security with multiple layers. “We advocate that concept because it lets you understand what’s happening on the device, and also what’s going on around the device,” Magallanez says. “It’s important because as threats proliferate through the network that surrounds these systems, they become more vulnerable.”

 

These connected devices may include monitoring equipment within hospitals or in patients’ homes; bedside (wired) or implanted (wireless) infusion pumps that deliver medication; networked radiology and surgical equipment; nurses’ stations, charting devices, and administrative systems; and telemedicine equipment that brings medical care to remote areas of the world. Entire networks that manage vital data and instructions are associated with these devices.

 

McAfee looks at the vulnerability aspects of everything the network implies, including the device’s physical security, data protection, and encryption as well as the behavior of the people using it, to make sure that the device and the network that surrounds it are secure. This level of security requires a layered approach that blankets the entire network.

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Security in layers

While personal health information can be accessed through sophisticated malware, low-tech risks, such as employees who accidentally or deliberately provide access, are just as dangerous. Securing personal health information to meet HIPAA and other requirements demands access control in situations where the device can be vulnerable. That’s especially important with the proliferation of easily accessed (and misplaced) mobile devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Security also relates to monitoring network traffic, including the sites that employees access on the Internet. Even legitimate sites can be compromised, which can then compromise sensitive data within the healthcare network.

 

Both the network and individual devices need to be monitored, maintained, and controlled; ideally using automated, 24/7 processes that don’t require the cost and inefficiency of onsite human intervention. McAfee’s Magallanez says, “We’re finding in the hospital space that margins are thinner and thinner, and administrators are trying to be as efficient as possible. Operating costs can be overwhelming.” Even “green” initiatives that are designed to reduce carbon footprint and make operations more energy-efficient can have security implications. For instance, if a threat is identified on a number of devices on the network, but other devices are powered off, historically there wasn’t a way to identify whether the threat had spread without sending technicians to power up, analyze, and patch those devices onsite.

 

Now administrators can use McAfee’s ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) Deep Command. The ePO centralized console shows the network administrator where a security threat manifested and the scope of the problem, and defines resources to mitigate the threat. Deep Command uses the Intel® vPro™ Active Management Technology (AMT) to allow secure remote access, even if the device isn’t powered on, which allows the administrator to remotely patch and reboot even large numbers of infected devices.  Deep Command can remotely power systems on, apply security and other maintenance protocols, and power the system back down to ensure safe operation when workers return. This eliminates the need to police employee compliance to security patch instructions, and can work around the 24/7 schedule of healthcare environments.

deep defender.jpg

 

Balance security and performance in medical devices

The ongoing compromise for device developers is how to balance security and performance requirements. McAfee has successfully deployed new technologies to help developers mitigate risk while optimizing performance. McAfee Embedded Control provides application whitelisting that blocks unauthorized applications and changes on fixed-function devices with very little performance overhead. If the application is attacked or changed, the software locks down the system so the virus is intercepted and terminated before it can run. This provides a high level of security and peace of mind for both the hospital administrator and the device manufacturer. Because of stringent safety certifications (such as the FDA) that restrict changes to certified systems, a change can require the equipment to be sent back to the manufacturer to be reimaged, resulting in service costs as well as loss of revenue while the system is out of use.

 

Device developers can also take advantage of the Intel® AES New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI) encryption instruction set that accelerates the encryption of data in the Intel® Xeon® processor family and the 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processor family. Encryption technology historically required the operating system to handle encryption algorithms, which can slow performance. McAfee integrates with the Intel AES-NI to offload the encryption engine to the CPU, with no reduction in performance and with full FIPS 140-2 certification.

 

Medical Device Innovation, Safety and Security (MDISS) Consortium

Looking ahead, Intel and McAfee, along with leading service care providers, device manufacturers, IT providers, research organizations, and others, are active in working groups of the Medical Device Innovation, Safety and Security (MDISS) Consortium. MDISS is focused on optimizing the relationship between the quality of healthcare and the process of assessing and ensuring that devices and systems are secure and functioning safely and appropriately. While MDISS is not a standards organization, its goals include the development of security best practices for safe, secure medical devices and associated networks.

 

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Solutions in this blog:

Related topics:

 

McAfee is an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

 

Cheryl Coupé

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Freelance technology writer and editor

Smartphone interfaces have changed people’s expectations for how they interact with computers and other devices, and those expectations have extended even to sophisticated medical equipment. According to Darshan Patel, director of Linux product management for Wind River, Android is starting to show up in almost any kind of medical device that includes a display, from bedside monitors to CT scanners to programming devices for pacemakers. Why? Essentially the same reasons that Android is now the dominant operating system on smartphones.

Wind River Android.jpg

Medical staff and patients are used to the look and feel of Android-based applications, and they want the same advantages in their professional devices as they have in their smartphones, tablets, and even in-vehicle infotainment systems.

 

Wind River’s Tim Skutt, senior staff technical marketing engineer, says: “The touch interface has become ubiquitous. If we’re going to push equipment out into the non-specialist realm, we need to put that equipment in a paradigm they’re used to.” Medical devices with Android-based user interfaces (UI) take advantage of people’s comfort with touching, swiping, and flipping through menus and options. This familiarity can ultimately make training and usability quicker, easier, and more efficient.

 

Even though legacy technologies still maintain full functionality, the ease-of-use factor is becoming more important to aid user adoption. For patients, an Android interface on a medical device looks familiar and current, in contrast to traditional interfaces that can feel outdated. This is especially important as medical equipment goes into patients’ homes or is used by other care providers such as physical therapists. With today’s pressures to reduce healthcare costs, patients may be referred to less-costly outpatient care, or may be sent home from the hospital earlier but with devices that allow their care provider to monitor them remotely. In these cases, the patient’s confidence and comfort level with the technology can be an important element in encouraging its regular use.

 

Even beyond the UI, Android offers advantages for developers, such as programming flexibility, robust computing, built-in sensor interfaces, and built-in communications support, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. For developers who previously used Linux or a real-time operating system (RTOS) with a UI on top, Android offers a quick path to market with a fresh new look. Wind River’s director of engineering Rick Anderson explains that even if developers don’t need all of Android’s “bells and whistles” for their medical device today, the fact that those features are available lets manufacturers explore their options to address new market opportunities.

 

Android, security, and virtualization

Security and privacy are key issues for any kind of medical software. There’s a wide spectrum of medical device types, however, from those that are primarily designed to view information or handle records, to those that monitor or control medical processes, such as delivering medication or controlling a ventilator. For the first type of product, security is important for privacy reasons (and to meet new patient-protection laws such as HIPAA); for the second, with human lives at stake, security is a critical element. While Android could still provide an excellent UI for these safety-critical applications, virtualization gives an option to provide a rich, graphical UI, but isolate it from functions that control or monitor safety processes.

 

medical tablet.jpgThe typical approach to virtualization is to have multiple virtual machines running concurrently, using a certified embedded hypervisor to separate them, such as the Wind River Hypervisor that provides rich safety-certification evidence. Another approach, for non-safety-critical applications, is lightweight partitioning. This allows developers to isolate processes that don’t need to run simultaneously. For example, a doctor who uses a tablet for personal and diagnostic purposes could use lightweight partitioning to protect medical records from personal files and applications. Or a mobile device that moves with a caregiver from one patient to another could provide access only to the records for the patient in the current room, then remove access to those records when the device is taken to another room with a different patient.

 

Android on medical devices also brings requirements beyond the smartphone

For all its benefits, developing medical devices with Android—as with any operating system—also brings challenges. Quality assurance, compliance to medical standards, and long-life version support are all critical elements for a medical device, and developers may need to add unique market-specific functionality beyond the operating system (OS).

Anderson explains the number one misconception developers have about Android and medical device development: many believe that because Android is open source, they can grab it and they’re almost done. “Like any other operating system project, Android is a starting point, that’s all,” Anderson says. “The version that Google releases is ever-changing, and it’s not hardened well enough for critical industries like medical.”

 

Wind River offers a range of products and services to make Android more appropriate for medical devices, and more efficient for developers. The Wind River Platform for Android is a “hardened” OS release that has been rigorously tested for specific hardware platforms, and that will be maintained for the long lifetime of certified medical devices. This is a commercially supported OS that incorporates the latest Android open source project software and optimizes it for performance so that developers can immediately innovate to meet their application-specific needs.

 

Wind River also offers a set of market-specific “Solution Accelerators,” including the Solution Accelerator for Android, Medical that helps speed time-to-market, supports product differentiation, and solves challenges that are unique to the medical market. These add-on software components follow the Continua Health Alliance guidelines to help device manufacturers build personalized, interoperable, and fully compliant products. For example, the Continua Health Alliance specifies the use of IEEE 11073 as the standard format for information exchange between personal health devices. The Wind River Solution Accelerator for Android, Medical supports the IEEE 11073 stack for sensor devices that include pulse oximeters, heart rate and blood pressure monitors, thermometers, scales, glucose meters, and a range of activity, fitness, and medication monitors. The Continua Health Alliance also establishes the Bluetooth Health Device Profile (HDP) as the wireless transmission protocol between devices, which is integrated into the Wind River Solution Accelerator for Android, Medical to provide interoperability between Android devices and medical sensors.

 

Finally, the Wind River Professional Services Medical Practice provides a full range of services for customers to help them develop compliant, safe, and secure connected medical devices and systems. Anderson explains that medical customers need their technical problems solved, just like customers in any other segment. But because medical software has to meet stringent quality and security requirements, Wind River can add value with its established processes and tools, and long years of experience working with certification bodies such as the FDA.

 

Android offers opportunities for innovation

These products and services address the second misconception that developers have: that Android doesn’t have a place in medical devices. Even a year ago, that might have had some validity, but not anymore. Anderson says, “The reality is, if you do the right things with Android: raise the quality level, take out what’s not needed, and add security and isolation, you have a very robust platform for medical devices.” Anderson adds one final thought about Android misconceptions in medical: the belief that if a developer puts Android on a medical device that it has to look like phone or tablet. The reality is that Android is already present in many devices, such as automotive dashboards and wristwatches, that don’t look like a tablet or smartphone. With Android’s customization capabilities, medical device developers can take their creativity and innovation to a whole new level.

 

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Wind River is an Associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.

 

Cheryl Coupé

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Freelance technology writer and editor

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