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How to Overcome these IoT Challenges for Medical Devices

Guest post by Sourodip Biswas, senior editor at Space-O Canada

Sourodip Biswas

The Internet of Things has shrunken our physical world and made it accessible to us like never before. The opportunities that it brings to different industries is not something we could have imagined until now. 

IoT is one of the leading software development trends. Its scope is limitless, and the industry it has transformed the most is healthcare. 

It not only opens opportunities to serve healthcare solutions without the physical presence of patients and care-providers but also gives us a vast amount of data that can be used to enhance the processes of the industry.

Berg estimates 50.2 million patients will remotely be monitored in the next 4 years. 

Changes like these were never possible without the Internet of Things. 

But with this shift, healthcare is also the industry that faces maximum technological challenges. 

  • Medical devices need to connect to a cloud and that imposes risks on the security of data. Cybercriminals are bent on stealing electronic health records (EHR). This is because the black market value of this data is very high. They malign the hospital network, causing disruption that’s sometimes beyond repair.  
  • Each medical device comprises an API, a UI, a URL and often interfaces for HDMI, Bluetooth or WiFi. All of these are exposed to threats if not secured by the manufacturer. It’s time the FDA guidance asks device manufacturers to provide detailed information so that it becomes feasible for healthcare providers to determine and compare the levels of security and safety built into a medical device. The FDA should also require manufacturers to follow specified standards that depend on the criticality of the device’s application.

The threat to data, however, is not the sole challenge that IoT brings with it. 

Read on to learn more:

Challenges for medical devices

The antenna serves as a physical link to connect medical devices to the network. They’re crucial for the efficiency of devices (especially where signals are weak).

Weak antennas also affect the battery life of the devices. 

Organizations struggle in the designing and testing arena because there’s a lack of awareness regarding antennas and necessary certifications. 

If we think about it, the list of challenges is quite extensive. We’ll begin with addressing the most important of them:

Design

Performance

Certification challenges

DesignWhen it comes to design, the No. 1 thing to remember is – no one-size-fits-all. The designing of the device that is monitored remotely is different from those that are used in hospitals. And these two are different from IoT devices (security devices, for example). Medical devices are used for varying purposes and thus their layout depends on the case they’re being used for. 

What needs to be kept in mind is:

  • The high-powered electronic pieces of equipment used within the medical devices can interfere with the device’s radio performance. 
  • The medical devices that are body-worn need to be comfortable and subtle at the same time. 

Another big problem that has surfaced recently is the use of previously-unconnected medical devices by adding cellular features. But what’s the problem with that? While the device is customized to fit the IoT requirements, its enclosure, battery size, PCB shape, and other intricacies remain the same. 

Trying to fit an antenna in these devices is a challenge. These devices were not designed to equip an antenna in the first place. And even if it fits any space somehow, the efficiency of the device will suffer. 

There’s one basic solution to this – the devices must be customized in a fashion that the integration of equipment (here, an antenna) is possible. For this, device companies should plan for the same when the designing process begins. Doing this, will deliver efficient devices and also satisfy its users. 

Note that one kind of antenna will not fulfill the requirements of all devices. As different devices have different functions and different kinds of electronics inside the antenna should also be customized accordingly. 

Performance and Certification 

All companies who want to bring their connected devices to the market require a wireless device certification. It doesn’t matter if their device is new or they’re trying to connect an existing device, they must undergo the certification process by the FCC, CE, and mobile network operator (if cellular is used). 

These connected devices need to have certain certifications and a specified level of network performance.

Not only this, but medical devices are also judged on how well they maintain data exchange. This involves their ability to latch onto a weak signal as well. This testing for data and sensitivity exchange is also known as OTA (Over the Air) testing. 

Speaking specifically about devices worn on the body, the wearer’s body affects the antenna and the RF system of the medical device. The manufacturer thus needs to consider this and the extra certification and tests. 

All this, however, is not necessary for IoT devices as they’re not generally worn on the body. In these cases, the designer needs to ensure that the members of the RF team have enough experience to test equipment and overcome challenges. 

Right antenna and robust connectivity are imperative for these devices so that they can pass the certification on time and the launch does not suffer. 

Collaboration 

Medical devices are already complicated, and it’s often not feasible for companies to handle everything on their own. For this reason, the way to succeed starts from collaboration with organizations that might prove to be helpful in the device-building process. All this, however, must start with designing. 

The partners here can include RF vendors and module vendors, mobile network operators, antennas, test labs, 

These partners can help device manufacturers with the following:

  • How to deploy devices in any location
  • Connectivity options such as LPWAN or satellite
  • Complexities of the device certification process, and ways to avoid them
  • Most efficient practices of wireless device design

A point to note:

Wrong choices are better avoided at the beginning itself and more so through consultation with antenna vendors regarding size, shape, location, type of mounting, etc. And also with certifications, testing plans, installations, and other requirements. 

Adding antennas to existing devices is an extensive process and becomes simpler if the vendors are involved early on in the process.

The first step toward resolving challenges is to recognize them. Once we’ve done that, we can start leveraging IoT in its true sense. 

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Sourodip Biswas is Digital Marketing Executive at Space-O Canada, a company having expertise in software and mobile app development. He believes that learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. His work has been published on various distinguished blogs across the web.

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