By Santhosh Nair
Devices are becoming more intelligent and controlling more and more aspects of patient care, clinical diagnostics, and hospital administration. And they are interacting not just with people—expanding our ability to communicate and share information—but also with each other. They control systems that literally keep people alive. Machine-to-machine (M2M) interaction, delivered by ever-smaller, ever-smarter components, allows for new levels of “situational awareness” and analytics, revolutionizing medical practices.
Business realities are also driving the need for ever-greater connectivity in medical devices. Interoperable connectivity is important both for keeping costs in line and for ensuring compliance with safety and security standards and requirements. For example, to reduce costs and meet consumer demands, seamless connectivity via Bluetooth and wireless local area networks (WLANs) are often required. Cost is another important consideration: the use of open connectivity standards can reduce implementation and lifecycle costs. Connectivity also increases efficiency: IT integration with medical device functionality enables preventive monitoring and workflow optimization.
Equally important, connectivity impacts compliance. To meet medical industry safety standards and regulations, device manufacturers must find a way to tackle the increased security risks of the connected era. According to McAfee, more than 55,000 new malware programs are uncovered every day, aimed at attacking connected devices of every type and size. However, cyber security certification can only be ensured for a complete, integrated system, including applications.
In short, the complexity of connectivity is creating huge headaches for medical device manufacturers, and the problem is compounded by the rapid growth of the healthcare industry itself over the past decade. Today there are too many devices, made by too many companies, utilizing too many competing standards, deployed at too many hospitals and clinics, to tie it all together in any cohesive way.
The result is that all too often, several different manufacturers make similar devices using different standards, and these devices can’t communicate with each other. They can’t be connected. They can’t share data. They add cost and complexity. They end up reducing the quality of patient care rather than improving it.
Clearly, consolidation of standards is necessary in the medical device industry. Wind River is attempting to address the situation by making available a healthcare standards protocol—a basic, certified middleware stack that can be used by all device manufacturers to ensure their devices can communicate with all other devices built to the standard. In addition, we are expanding the use of other key industry standards within our platform so that our ecosystem of partners can simply take our stack and integrate it into their products with no issues. This will enable medical device manufacturers to select Wind River or Wind River ecosystem solutions and lower their barriers to entry.