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Biomedical devices benefit from health care network convergence

Modern biomedical devices now rely on high-availability networks to manage data, monitor patients and make equipment more portable.

Convergence is happening throughout health care networks these days, but perhaps nowhere more than in biomedical devices. This tip summarizes some of the many ways these devices are taking advantage of network convergence.

• Many of the biomedical devices most frequently used today depend on high-availability networks for some or all of their functions. X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging and CT scanning systems all have computer cores that capture and transfer images over the network to central data storage. These systems will also automatically associate images with the patient’s electronic medical record.

• Drug-dispensing robots electronically manage hospital inpatients’ medications. Their computer systems securely control access to medications, prevent unauthorized use and manage medication inventories. They also ensure that patients receive only proper, prescribed medications, and they send information about use and access over the hospital network to the pharmacy, as well as to central auditing for compliance purposes.

• Fetal monitors record vital information over wired and wireless networks, transferring the information to central monitoring stations and electronically storing historic data.

• Pulse and oxygen monitors are using Wi-Fi technology to send patients’ vital information to central monitoring stations and to store days and weeks of data.

• Medication pumps now contain computer systems with wired and wireless network interface cards (NIC). Via the network these pumps receive medication library information directly from the inpatient pharmacy. They record which medications are used, including volume and dosage. They can be locked down to prevent certain medications from being given to or prescribed for specific patients. They send an alarm when failures occur, or alert for reminders to provide medication within specific windows of time. They shut themselves off when maintenance is required.

• Most medical device vendors are making sure their devices have wireless NIC cards, because they know that radio frequency identification systems can use the cards’ signals to track a device’s location. Clinical departments, for example, use 802.11 RFID tags to quickly locate items including crash carts and pulmonary carts; medication pumps; beds (especially bariatric beds for overweight patients); wheelchairs; and oxygen, pulse and telemetry monitors.

• Wristbands containing RFID tags, a standard security feature in most hospitals, are used to track the location of newborns at all times.

• Electroencephalogram and electrocardiogram devices now have a computer core, and are network accessible. They also can be centrally monitored, and all the recorded data can be electronically transferred and stored in central disk farms.

• Paging systems are now faster and more accurate when they used enterprise data networks. There’s virtually no latency in IP-network paging systems.

• Wireless IP phones are becoming intelligent devices that provide an automatic notification when patient monitoring device alarms go off, sending data and images directly to an IP phone.

• Portable X-ray equipment used for trauma cases in the emergency room is being made more mobile by the use of wireless technology instead of wired cables. Now medical staff can bring an X-ray device to the patient, instead of the other way around.

• Medical lab devices send results through the network, preventing the errors possible when results are manually transcribed.

Al Gallant is the director of technical services at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. Let us know what you think about the story; email

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