Connected radiology devices can maximize uptime

August 02, 2017
By Barry Skirble

It is estimated that 5 billion devices are connected to the Internet.

A number of these devices have sensors that collect machine-level data and forward that data to service and development organizations throughout the globe. Airlines, railroads and even elevator organizations now collect data and alerts that ensure maximum “uptime” of scheduled operations and make all of our lives a bit easier. These companies use deep learning systems like IBM Watson to predict the failure of the parts in their systems.

The radiology medical device industry has joined the party with smart connected devices. In the radiology suite there are several smart connected medical devices including scanners, injectors and digital radiography equipment. These smart connected devices are in use 24/7 and downtime can impact life-saving diagnosis and the important monitoring of medical treatment for a particular disease or medical condition. The smart connected device not only provides important information for hospital records in other systems, but also can be monitored by the device manufacturer to proactively and predictably identify and fix issues before they cause the medical device to stop working, and therefore, the health care facility to stop treating patients.

You could imagine that a contrast injector in the radiology suite that does 10 to 15 injections per day begins reporting that the motor current is at a high level. This is not an immediate problem for the contrast injector. However, as time goes on, the motor may fail causing a field service engineer (FSE) to be dispatched to the site. If the motor fails, a scan could be interrupted and patient procedures would require rescheduling while the contrast injector is down for four hours or more while the FSE travels to the site and then troubleshoots and fixes the problem.

With a smart connected medical device, an alert would be sent to the technical assistance center where it will be triaged and reviewed. The alert would contain information needed to identify the issue, the parts needed and how long until the device would fail. The FSE can now proactively support the radiology suite operations, scheduling a time to go on-site and replace the parts before the device fails with little to no downtime for the facility, interruption of a procedure or need to reschedule multiple patient scans.

‘Design for Service’
For smart connected medical devices to become a reality, the medical device manufacturer must begin to think differently. “Design for Service” no longer means making the device easy to repair and maintain by the FSEs, but now design engineering includes ensuring that devices such as contrast injectors are smart connected devices. For remote device service, the design must include provisions for collecting machine level data such as:

• Motor usage.
• Battery usage.
• Sensors in the system (air detectors, pressure detectors).
• Printed circuit board monitoring.
• Number of uses of the system.

Once a contrast injector system is designed for connected field service, many new opportunities arise for the remote service of an institution’s devices, including:

• Remote software updates.
• Customer request for service directly from the medical device.
• Device manufacturer alerts.
• Remote diagnostics and troubleshooting.
• Remotely fixing the device.
• Predictive analytics.

Service delivery and informatics
Service delivery, which now includes remote service capabilities, is an important part of the design of radiology medical devices for many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that are committed to maximum uptime and maximum performance of their products. Not only are the device manufacturers developing internal systems for parts replacement and maintenance, informatics is an increasingly important feature for these devices, including service informatics.

Service informatics includes capabilities such as remote diagnostics, remote update of cybersecurity patches, predictive analytics and customer usage patterns. With service informatics capabilities, the OEM’s service organization can identify how customers are using the medical devices. For example, if a new feature of a contrast injection system is released, the OEM of a smart connected device has the capability to identify if the new feature is being used and how it is being used. With this information we can tell if a customer was trained correctly or needs more training on the new functionality of their contrast injection system and offer customers additional support.

The health care industry is rapidly adopting the digital transformation that other industries have been taking advantage of for years. When making medical device acquisitions for the radiology suite, administrators are factoring in the informatics functionality of contrast injection systems and are updating their operations with the latest smart connected contrast injectors that offer informatics connectivity to other hospital systems and connected field service as well as service informatics. Medical devices are being developed with serviceability and human factors engineering in mind. For the radiology suite, this means maximum uptime with the goal of uninterrupted patient care.

Barry Skirble

About the author:
Barry Skirble is the head of the Informatics Platform organization in Bayer Pharmaceuticals’ radiology business where he is responsible for the development of the informatics platform, including the service technology applications. He has more than 30 years of experience specializing in software engineering, information technology, health care information security, network systems, remote connectivity and managing technology.

Skirble is also a published author. Drawn to his hospital automation experience in asset management systems, robotics delivery systems, RFID and HIPAA regulations, he’s often asked to speak at health care information technology conferences. Prior to joining Bayer, Skirble served as the chief information officer/vice president of software engineering of Aethon Inc., chief information officer/security officer at McKesson Automation and chief technology officer of Four Rivers Software Systems. Skirble holds three patents in robotics and RFID technologies.