Rugged Computers in Healthcare

Getach RX10H Medical TabletA hospital is a demanding environment for computers and tablets that move from place to place. Dropping a normal device will shorten or end its life. When they're used around chemicals or contaminated materials, the stuff can get inside and be almost impossible to clean out.

A ruggedized device answers these problems. It can survive a lot of shaking and dropping, and contaminants won't leak into it.

With the patient

Hospital staff will sometimes ask patients to enter information on a tablet. It's a convenient way to reduce paper and get information into data processing systems more quickly. However, patients may be shaky from their condition or feel stressed, so they're more likely than usual to drop the tablet. With a normal tablet, the result is often a shattered screen or other failure. Repairs cost money and take the device out of service, and replacement is expensive. A device that survives a few falls pays for itself.

If the patient has an infectious disease and coughs or sneezes (or worse) onto the device, it needs to be sterilized. Just handling a device can spread some pathogens. If it has openings that let fluids through, making sure it's disinfected is very difficult. Contaminants can get under a laptop's keys just from typing. The typical mobile device isn't made for washing.

In a medical environment, it's necessary not just to avoid contamination, but to certify that any possible contamination has been neutralized. A device that's rated for immersion makes it easier to certify that with sufficient confidence. Nothing should get inside, and it can take a vigorous cleaning.

Any computers used around patients ought to meet the IEC60601-1 safety standard. Ruggedized computers aren't necessarily compliant, but their construction helps to reduce the risk of electrical shock.

On the move

Laptops and tablets sometimes have to get to a critical location in a hurry. Medical carts give them a good shaking in halls and on elevators, not to mention the occasional collision with another cart when everyone is in a rush.

Devices on ambulances help with patient monitoring and reporting, but they can get even rougher treatment. Rapid acceleration and braking can knock them around, as can a patient who's flailing in pain. Some ambulances have docking stations for computers, but they can still get liquids or dirt dumped on them.

In the lab

When computing devices go into a lab, they can be exposed to dangerous chemicals and biological contaminants. If this happens, it's necessary to clean and disinfect them, and dangerous substances shouldn't be able to get inside where it's impossible to clean them out.

Measures of protection

Not all "rugged" devices are equally rugged. The highest degree of protection will cost more and weigh more. It's necessary to strike the right balance of cost, portability, and protection.

The Ingress Protection (IP) rating measures how well the device keeps solids and liquids from getting inside. It's a two-digit number, with the first digit indicating protection from solids, and the second protection from liquids. If the first digit is 5 or 6, little or no dust can get in. The second digit indicates it's safe to immerse the computer, if it's 7 or higher.

MIL-STD-810G defines a suite of tests on what a device can withstand. Not all of them are necessary for a hospital environment; high altitude and salt fog aren't conditions a hospital normally encounters. The important measures are drop resistance and fluid contamination resistance.

NEMA ratings aren't as useful for a medical environment. There are thirteen levels, but higher isn't always better for all purposes; they simply indicate what environment a device is suited for. The ratings are oriented toward industrial and outdoor field use rather than medical settings. The important thing is the ability to withstand dropping and stay clean.

Getac's featured rugged computers for healthcare workers include:

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