June 1, 2021

Remote and predictive maintenance of medical equipment in the era of connected healthcare


Digitalization is transforming the medical and healthcare system worldwide, with IoT technologies playing an increasingly fundamental role, particularly in the remote and predictive maintenance of medical equipment. Cloud IoT technologies allow for the remote management and monitoring of medical devices and the ability to perform advanced analysis of the captured data – both in the cloud or at the edge. This brings an impressive range of practical applications and benefits to medical equipment manufacturers and healthcare professionals alike.

Cloud IoT supports predictive and remote maintenance to help healthcare organizations monitor, maintain, and optimize their equipment in real time. Here’s what you need to know about what it can do, the barriers to IoT integration and what to expect in the future.


Predictive maintenance of medical equipment


Performance data from a medical device can be collected and analyzed remotely by healthcare professionals and equipment manufacturers to anticipate malfunctions before they happen. Medical devices contain pumps, filters and parts that, like any other machine, have a certain life cycle and need to be replaced at intervals. Typically, hospital staff have technicians on-site to check these machines and their components to make sure they’re working properly, but if an issue is missed and the machine breaks, it can cause downtime and disruption to patient treatments.

To make this process more efficient, and to reduce the need for manual checks and the likelihood of breakdowns, IoT technologies can be used to read the data from the machine’s components to establish how long it’s been in operation and how long it has left before it reaches the end of its life cycle and needs to be replaced. The hospital maintenance group can then be alerted in advance so replacement parts can be ordered and fitted.


Remote maintenance


IoT also enables the remote configuration of medical devices between patients. Technicians or medical staff would usually be required to change the settings of medical devices manually, for example, amending the settings on a dialysis machine between one patient and the next to ensure the correct treatment is being given. IoT can enable the required patient settings to be configured remotely at the back end to coincide with the different appointments. The only intervention required from medical staff is to clean the machines between each use and to welcome the patient, freeing up more medical time and resource to be focused elsewhere.


Retrofitted vs IoT-native design for medical devices


To enable the remote and predictive maintenance of medical equipment, devices need to have IoT capability built into them. This can happen in two ways:

  • Retrofitting is adapting existing medical devices to become IoT connected devices. This requires the IoT gateway to be built into an existing asset’s board or box so the manufacturer can interface the machine’s electronics and read its data, allowing analysis to take place and the necessary rules and alerts to be set up.
  • IoT-native design is employed when the medical equipment manufacturer decides that the next generation of machines will be IoT connected from the roots. This requires an upfront understanding of what medical device data needs to be analyzed and what alerts and triggers need to be put in place before it moves onto installation and trial. The machines are then manufactured with this capability built into the machine.

The market – both in healthcare and other verticals – is currently more retrofitted design than IoT-native, but specialist IoT software skills and support are required throughout both processes to ensure success.


What are the challenges to IoT integration in medical equipment?


Medical equipment manufacturers will often come across two main barriers to deploying the technology. The first is its perceived complexity – it’s incredibly rare that medical manufacturers have the required IoT skills and expertise in-house capable of delivering their desired project, and for this reason, integrating IoT is often perceived as ‘too complex’. Many need to form a partnership with a specialist they can trust, that not only offers the hardware and software building blocks needed to deliver their vision, but the ongoing training and skills needed to manage the project.

The second is security – a well-designed IoT architecture for distributed medical devices needs to offer solid end-to-end security and provide local processing capabilities to enable functionality like access to technical data and configuration management. When dealing with sensitive patient data, there are a number of stringent security certifications to consider, with each component of the device undergoing rigorous testing.

There are different levels of certification required when the data and machines are kept in the hospital environment, compared to when data is transferred through 3G, 4G, and now 5G, infrastructures. Your IoT partner should be able to lead you through the process and ensure full compliancy, regardless of where and how your devices will be used.


Where is the technology going in future?


As more manufacturers actively look to integrate IoT capability in devices to enable remote and predictive maintenance of medical equipment, IoT-native design is likely to become the norm. Once this data collection and analysis process becomes more established, the functionality can be taken a step further to enable an automated ordering process. Data from machine filters, pumps or sensors can be automatically shared with the manufacturer or supplier of the part so that they can be altered when it’s nearing the end of its life cycle and a replacement part should be sent out.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re also likely to see more medical devices moving into the home of the patient to enable remote treatment. More medical device manufacturers are designing and building new devices that can be moved and connected with beyond the hospital environment, forming partnerships with IoT specialists to enable the effective integration of IoT technologies with all the necessary safety and data measures in place.

To learn more about the integration of IoT technologies in the medical sector, or to find out how we can help with your next project, simply get in touch.