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Getting Medical Devices Onto the LAN

Many medical devices are restricted to RS-232 communication, and will remain so for some time to come. That doesn't preclude them from being networked.

Some newer medical devices have Ethernet ports that provide communication through either fixed or dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) settings. Therefore, they can be attached to an enterprise LAN.

Ethernet communications can work well for the newer medical because they connect to hospital LAN or over a virtual LAN (VLAN) and are thus Internet-ready. Using a VLAN ensures data privacy and security between the medical device and an electronic medical health-record system.

In my first book, one of the topics I covered — still relevant today — is the network-enablement of medical devices. Figure 1 illustrates one of those devices: a Moxa Nport serial-to-Ethernet converter. I illustrate ad-absurdum that some devices that should be easy to connect to the enterprise could require extraordinary measures using off-the-shelf hardware.

Figure 1  MOXA NPort Serial-to-Ethernet Device (Reference: Integrating Device Data into the Electronic Medical Record, Page 43)

Figure 1 MOXA NPort Serial-to-Ethernet Device (Reference: Integrating Device Data into the Electronic Medical Record, Page 43)

Figure 2 is one such attempt. A consumer glucometer, often used for home management of diabetes mellitus, is attached through its proprietary serial cable to a serial-to-Ethernet converter. Many of the devices on the market for accomplishing this task, however, were not specifically designed for medical applications. While they can accomplish the task in terms of raw data translation, other mandated requirements exist for appliances placed in the proximity of patients. Not all medical devices automatically satisfy these requirements.

Figure 2  MOXA Nport configured to communicate to a consumer glucometer (LifeScan) via NPort appliance.

Figure 2 MOXA Nport configured to communicate to a consumer glucometer (LifeScan) via NPort appliance.

For example, IEC 60601 is a series of standards specifying safety requirements of medical equipment. Over the years, a number of manufacturers have evolved (including the author's own company) that manufacture devices for translating data from serial to Ethernet. They transmit data on the enterprise network and make those data accessible. Figure 3 illustrates one such unit that meets IEC 60601-1 and UL requirements on placement at the bedside for use in medical device data collection.

Figure 3  Nuvon Device Manager connected to a GE Dash 5000 monitor within a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU).

Figure 3 Nuvon Device Manager connected to a GE Dash 5000 monitor within a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU).

The unit shown here contains eight serial ports that receive serial input through RJ45 serial adapters communicating over standard Ethernet cables to the appliance. Data are translated into a format suitable for communication over either wired or wireless LAN. This approach lets medical devices otherwise constrained by the physics of their design or by limitations in the environment to communicate to an existing healthcare enterprise.

What sorts of network connectivity issues have you had to deal with?

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted to EDN.

13 comments on “Getting Medical Devices Onto the LAN

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 11, 2013

    The serial-to Ethernet products will solve the hardware connectivity problems.

    But in addition to that I think what we need is the application support that will get the raw data from a device over the serial port and reformat it along with the necessary identification tags – such as patient Id, the machine ID, date and time stamp etc so that the further documentation of the medical records becomes easier

  2. Susan Fourtané
    October 12, 2013

    More than discussing connectivity issues there is a need for discussing solutions for every healthcare center to implement more and better medical devices as well as a good network, and of course 100 percent reliable WiFi connectivity to allow physicians, and nurses to perform their job without delay. 

    -Susan

  3. Susan Fourtané
    October 12, 2013

    Prabhakar, 

    At this point electronical medical records should not be the problem it seems to still be in some places. It has been years already, and many hospitals in the US have not successfully adopted EMRs, which is worrying if you come to think about it, as they are falling behind in a sector that can't afford delays. 

    -Susan

  4. Susan Fourtané
    October 12, 2013

    Rich, 

    Everything is on eBay, isn't it? 

    -Susan

  5. FLYINGSCOT
    October 12, 2013

    I believe the issue is not so much getting serial data on to the LAN but what the app does with the data at the other end.  It would need to understand the format and data encoding etc. to know what to do with it.  That means interoperability between suppliers.

  6. t.alex
    October 14, 2013

    Linking to LAN is really nice idea whereby you can easily have a centralize control and monitoring station for all the patients. How about adopting wireless technology for medical devices? For example, converting to wifi or zigbee ?

  7. jbond
    October 14, 2013

    I think you are on to something. Having wireless technology would help trememdously.

  8. t.alex
    October 15, 2013

    jbond, that will help a lot such as a lot of wiring can be reduced.

  9. jbond
    October 17, 2013

    I was thinking more about portability and access to information without being directly in the room. It will make diagnosing and access to medical information more accessible throughout.

  10. t.alex
    October 18, 2013

    jbond, there are some pros and cons as well. The cons is people without authorized access will try to access the information via the wireless system (i.e. they just have to stand near to the access points). Hence security measures have to be put in place.

  11. jbond
    October 21, 2013

    People without authorization access medical information now via the internet. As long as someone is tech savvy, they will find a way if they want to, unfortunately.

  12. itguyphil
    October 21, 2013

    There should be layers that prevent this type of breach. Although most devices need access to network resources internally, not everything needs external access.

    So theoretically speaking, only internal users with the know-how should be able to get “unauthorized” access.

  13. Wale Bakare
    October 31, 2013

    >>People without authorization access medical information now via the internet. As long as someone is tech savvy, they will find a way if they want to, unfortunately<<

    Any thing commendable or achievable done so far on securing the internet? Either by government or private sector?

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