According to the Journal of Patient Safety, a whopping 210,000 to 440,000 deaths attributable to medical errors occur in hospitals every year. Clearly, there is a desperate need for technology to take a leading role in medical device development in order to improve patient outcomes and save money. The two emerging technologies in the medical space are context-aware technology and multi-input technology.

Fig. 1 – Dr. Jay Flottmann, Training Officer, and Maj. (ret.) Barry Coggins, Chief Information Officer, interact with the CHaRM™ system, prior to testing in a hospital setting.
Context-aware technology links changes occurring in the environment (based on spatial, temporal, and/or user sensor data) with computer systems, which are otherwise static. This technology is able to learn or modify system functionality based on historical data, environment, users, etc. For example, some hospitals have adopted this technology by using mobile devices to communicate tasks and reports to hospital staff based on their location. Conversely, multi-input technology involves multiple modes of interaction with a system (e.g. keyboard, mouse, voice, gesture, touch screen). These technologies allow end-users to access data using a variety of methods.

Popular Technologies

Some of the most popular and advanced features in medical machinery include gesture-sensitive checklists, voice activation, and context-aware software.

Some of the big players in the medical technology space include:

  • Leap Motion (Gesture-Sensitivity): Provides the ability to interact with a computer through motion and gestures.
  • Microsoft® Kinect™: Provides the ability to interact with a computer through motion and gestures, as well as voice.
  • Microsoft® Sync Framework: Syncs data from multiple data stores seamlessly.
  • Asclepius (named after the Greek god of medicine and doctors): A web server that provides easy data retrieval from other platforms.
  • Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF): Enables the binding of user controls directly to data in the device. In cases where medical devices aid in saving lives, technologies like WPF are extremely important because every second counts.

Alone, these separate technologies are somewhat limited. However, when integrated together, medical devices become virtual medical workers able to gather information from one another and interpret the environment around them, such as adjusting to differences in speech between multiple users.

Both context-aware and multi-input technologies are the future of medical device development because professional and consumer demand indicates so. Both patients and medical professionals desire medical devices that are equipped with the technology needed to store data securely, respond timely based on interactions, and positively impact the end-user. By considering multi-input and/or context-aware technology during the development process, engineers can better satisfy end-users’ demand. These demands are the main reasons why technology is being introduced into the medical space today.

Given the popularity of smartphones, smart tablets, and other high-tech consumer products that possess context-aware or multi-input features, it is important for engineers to think about how they, too, can use these technologies to advance the medical field. Developers are quickly learning that technology is transferrable across professional practices. The same features that we use to operate our iPhone® and video games are now being considered as validated and useful technologies to be applied in the development of medical devices.

Engineering Benefits

Engineers who incorporate multi-input technology into medical devices allow the end-user to interact with the same data in many different ways. For example, a patient’s data from a routine checkup versus an emergency room visit can be viewed differently, depending on the needs of the doctor, medical staff, and patient. Utilizing multi-input integrative technologies opens up the doors of possibility for how data can be used to improve patient outcomes. Similarly, context-aware technology eliminates the need to manually interact with data, making device functionality automatic. It serves the user with automatic identification of patients or their environment, recording of patient data, presentation of data, etc.

Both technologies streamline the communication process within medical devices, allowing end-users to work in sterile environments, customize, generate, and store data according to patient-specific needs and, ultimately, reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.