A New Dimension in Diagnostics
Innovative control technology offers medical professionals and technicians the potential to do much more with diagnostic imaging equipment. This article looks at intuitive controls that can be used for radiological applications that offer an interface much closer to familiar consumer devices.
Medical imaging technology has developed at an incredible speed, but imaging technicians and physicians are still using a mouse and keyboard to manipulate complex ultrasound, CT, and MRI images in 2D.
When healthcare professionals are able to maneuver images in 3D and view them from any perspective, they’re making the most of the modern diagnostic imaging equipment available to them.
Moving, turning, or viewing an object in the physical world is intuitive. But when diagnostic imaging equipment is involved, health professionals have to remember how to complete certain tasks and actions. Does selecting an option from a menu require a single click or double click? Does rotating an image call for turning a dial or using the touchball?
The same controls have been used for years to interface with diagnostic imaging equipment. But brand new technology offers healthcare professionals and technicians the capability to do much more with the images this equipment captures. Through human gestures, touches, and motions, a whole host of information can be conveyed intuitively with a single device that tells diagnostic imaging equipment how to operate and what to do.
Time for New Technology
Due to the wide adoption of smartphones, tablets, and other mainstream touchscreen electronics, the broader population is now familiar with the use of gestures to accomplish a task.
To bring this technology into the world of diagnostic imaging, multi-touch human interface devices (MT-HIDs) are now being integrated into medical equipment to read finger gestures and movements just like iPhones or touchscreen smartphones.
While an MT-HID tracks finger movements on the touch surface, a software library is needed to interpret the gestures. The sensor data created from the device touchpad is typically fed to an application or operating system where the software translates the tracked data into a command. The software can be modified so that the equipment designer and, in some cases, healthcare professionals, can set which gestures are recognized, and what commands those movements and gestures trigger.
To be competitive, any new interface for diagnostic imaging equipment must include the ability to operate in a virtual 3D workspace. The latest ultrasound, MRI, and CT systems are all capable of producing 3D representations. The best MT-HIDs and their software can be set to operate in 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 (Figure 1).
Depending on how the technology is integrated into diagnostic imaging equipment, the touchpad device and software can be used to perform a variety of functions, such as:
- Image viewing
- Image rotation and manipulation
- Menu selection
This touchpad/software combination replaces common interface devices found on most diagnostic imaging equipment, including:
- Knobs and dials
These functions are created by assigning gestures from a gesture library to specific software commands. For example, if the sensor tracks a finger moving vertically across its surface and then releasing while moving, the library could interpret this gesture as a scroll with momentum. This gesture would be sent to the application, which would be programmed to scroll vertically through a menu and slow down gradually. Most MT-HIDs also offer a software development kit, making it easy for design engineers to test gesture software with their system.
While these types of interface devices often function well, they offer limited points of contact for the person using them. They are restricted in terms of the functions they control, and they’re often more expensive than new touchpad/software technology. In addition, many of these devices are unsuitable for medical applications because they contain crevices and cracks that allow for bacteria to harbor.
Cut Down on HAIs
Any medical staff will tell you that combating infection opportunities in healthcare environments is a top priority. Design engineers who can contribute to this effort will have a competitive advantage.
Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are infections acquired by patients during the course of hospital treatment for another health-related condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately one out of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract an HAI during a hospital visit. When bacteria lurk on medical devices or a healthcare professional’s hands, it’s possible that they’ll find a way into a patient’s body through an invasive medical procedure.
These infections are a significant cause of death in the United States, listed among the top 10 leading causes. For survivors, the infections can lead to years of follow-up treatment, multiple required surgeries, or disability. HAIs cost U.S. hospitals at least $6.65 billion per year, according to the CDC.
“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,”
With touch technology, there aren’t any cracks, crevices, or moving parts where bacteria can become trapped. The new MT-HIDs for medical electronics have smooth surfaces that are not coated in textured paint (which can trap bacteria by causing surface irregularities). They are completely sealed (for use in cleanrooms) and made of materials that withstand strong cleaning agents.
Increase Medical Staff Productivity
This new visual control technology for diagnostic imaging equipment changes the way technicians, nurses, and physicians will interact with equipment and images they control.
“If used on imaging equipment, this technology could not only reduce infections, but also increase our efficiency and productivity,” says Dr. Facchini.
Touch technology is much more intuitive to use (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.
Tracking up to five fingers at a time, the technology can centralize all controls and commands into one device versus having a separate knob, dial, switch, and keypad located all on the same piece of equipment. If used for image display, rotation, or manipulation, healthcare professionals can toggle between 2D and 3D viewing at any time.
Instead of featuring separate controls for navigation, image manipulation, and menu selection, for example, all commands can be integrated into one easy-to-use device that also improves productivity and efficiency for medical staff viewing images from diagnostic equipment. This cuts down on manufacturing costs, making the equipment more affordable to produce. It also allows for a simplified mechanical design, which means the equipment’s control panel can be reduced in size.
A centralized interface promotes ergonomic efficiency as well. By consolidating controls and placing it within easy reach, imaging technicians and physicians can execute typical commands without needing to remove their eyes from the equipment screen. As a result, along with the use of instinctive gestures, this touch technology also enhances productivity.
As this promising new technology can reduce bacterial infections, increase diagnostic imaging equipment functionality, and enhance healthcare staff productivity, it offers a significant competitive advantage to the developers of medical device technology that could use it to replace more traditional controls.
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