Medical imaging technology is improving at a remarkable speed, but most imaging technicians and physicians still use a mouse and keyboard to manipulate in two dimensions the complex ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images generated from this technology.

Fig. 1 – Multi-touch human interface devices allow the user to manipulate objects along the X, Y, and Z axes, as well as rotations around each.

Now, with the ability to maneuver images in 3D, medical professionals can make the most of the investment healthcare organizations are making in modern diagnostic imaging equipment.

In the physical world, moving, turning, or viewing an object doesn’t require much thought—it’s intuitive. But, when it comes to traditional diagnostic imaging equipment, health professionals must learn and remember how to accomplish specific tasks and actions. When selecting an option from a menu, for example, do you click once or twice? If you want to rotate an image on the screen, do you need to use the joystick or turn the dial?

For decades, the industry has been using the same kinds of controls to interact with diagnostic imaging equipment. But, new technology introduced to the market in April offers healthcare professionals and technicians the potential to do much more with the images captured by diagnostic imaging equipment.

Through human gestures, touches, and motions, this technology allows information to be conveyed with a single device that tells diagnostic imaging equipment how to maneuver and what to do.

Bringing Touch Technology to Imaging

Thanks to the widespread acceptance of MP3 players, tablets, smartphones, and other mainstream touchscreen devices, the general population is familiar with how gestures can be used to accomplish tasks.

Multi-touch human interface devices (MT-HIDs), along with software, bring this technology to the world of diagnostic imaging. MT-HIDs are now being integrated with diagnostic imaging equipment to read finger gestures and movements like a smartphone would.

An MT-HID tracks finger movements on the touch surface, and a software library is incorporated to interpret the gestures. The sensor data created from the device touchpad is fed to an application or operating system. The software then translates the tracked data into a command.

Software can be modified so the equipment designer, and, in some cases, healthcare professionals, can determine which gestures will be recognized, and which commands those movements and gestures will trigger.

To be competitive, any new interface for today’s diagnostic imaging equipment must incorporate the ability to operate in a virtual 3D workspace. The latest ultrasound, MRI, and CT equipment are all capable of producing 3D representations, so it’s crucial to have the controls in place to view and manipulate these images. The best MT-HIDs, along with their accompanying software, can be set to operate in 2D or 3D mode, allowing the user to manipulate objects with “six degrees of freedom.” This means that the software can translate movement from the touchpad into commands along the X, Y, and Z axes, as well as rotations around each of these axes. (See Figure 1)

Fig. 2 – The touchpad device can perform a variety of functions, such as track, zoom, rotate, and more.

The touchpad device and software can be used to perform a variety of functions, such as image viewing, image rotation and manipulation, menu selection, navigation, and search, depending on how the technology is integrated into diagnostic imaging equipment. (See Figure 2)

These functions can be created by assigning gestures from a gesture library to a specific software command. For example, if the sensor tracks a finger moving vertically across its surface and then releasing while moving, the library could be assigned to interpret this gesture as a scroll with momentum. This gesture would be sent to the application, which would be programmed to do what the design engineer has asked it to do, such as scroll vertically through a menu and then slow down gradually.

This technology may also offer a software development kit, making it easy for design engineers to test gesture software with their systems. This touchpad/software combination replaces the most common control devices found on diagnostic imaging equipment, including: joysticks, keypads, knobs and dials, switches, touchscreens, and trackballs.

While these traditional types of interface devices may function well, they offer limited points of contact. These devices are restricted in terms of the functions they control; they’re also often more costly than new touchpad/software technology. In addition, many of these devices aren’t appropriate for medical applications because they allow bacteria to harbor in crevices and cracks.

Keeping HAIs Under Control

Preventing infection opportunities in healthcare environments is always a top priority. Design engineers who can design components to contribute to this effort will have a competitive advantage.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), which are infections that are acquired by patients during hospital treatment for another health-related condition, cost US hospitals at least $6.65 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One out of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract an HAI during a hospital stay, says CDC data. When bacteria lurk on medical devices or a healthcare professional’s hands, it’s possible that it will find a way into a patient’s body during an invasive medical procedure.

HAIs are on the list of top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. For those who survive an HAI, the infection may require years of follow-up treatment, multiple surgeries, or lead to disability.

With new touch technology, however, there aren’t any cracks, crevices, or moving parts where bacteria can become trapped. This makes them ideal for medical and healthcare environments. The MT-HIDs have smooth surfaces that aren’t coated in textured paint (which can trap bacteria by causing surface irregularities). They’re also completely sealed (for use in cleanrooms), and are made of materials that can withstand strong cleaning agents.

“We’re very concerned about hospital-acquired infections because they’re not desired patient outcomes, and they affect our operating costs. So we’re looking for every opportunity to mitigate risk,” says Dr. Frank Facchini, a board-certified physician in interventional radiology who practices at the Adventist Midwest Health hospitals in Chicago’s western suburbs. Dr. Facchini is also the Development Chair for the Society of Interventional Radiology Foundation. “Anything without cracks or crevices is highly interesting, and needed by the medical industry,”

Promoting Productivity & Simplicity

This new control technology will change the way technicians, nurses, and physicians are able to interact with diagnostic imaging equipment.

Touch technology is much more intuitive than traditional equipment interfaces (and most people are already comfortable controlling today’s contemporary electronic devices in the same way), so there’s no need to remember which knob, switch, or joystick does what.

The technology can centralize all controls and commands into one device vs. needing a separate knob, dial, switch, and keypad located on the same piece of equipment. If the technology is used for image display, rotation, or manipulation, healthcare professionals can toggle between 2D and 3D viewing at any time. The MT-HID devices can also track up to five fingers at once.

All commands are integrated into one easy-to-use device that also improves productivity and ergonomic efficiency for the medical staff that views diagnostic equipment images. By consolidating controls and placing just one device within easy reach, imaging technicians and physicians can perform typical control commands without removing their eyes from the equipment screen.

This simplicity also cuts down on manufacturing costs, making the equipment more affordable to produce. It allows for a simplified mechanical design as well as a smaller equipment control panel.

When implemented in a hospital environment with diagnostic imaging equipment, this promising new technology will not only enhance productivity, but will also help medical staff reduce bacterial infections and increase diagnostic imaging equipment functionality.

This article was written by Robert Kerner, R&D Manager, Grayhill, Inc., La Grange, IL. For more information, Click Here 

Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2013 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.