Medical electronics, like other electronic systems, are making increasing use of touch screens. All public touch screens are potential vectors for infection, but this issue is particularly acute in the medical environment. What steps can the designer take to minimise the risk of the spread of infection through an electronic device?
There are a three main questions to consider:
Where will the system be used?
Is it designed for the home, or is it intended for a surgery, a ward or even an operating theatre where an infection control regime will be in place?
How is it to be used?
Is the system there for to improve patient comfort (to control bed position or provide entertainment)? Or is it a direct element in the medical treatment?
Will the operators be using their fingers directly, or will they be wearing surgical gloves of some kind?
We are often asked about (and can offer) anti-microbial treatment for the surface of touch screens.
What is antimicrobial treatment?
An anti-bacterial coating based on nano-silver materials helps break the bacterial cell wall, and can be shown to reduce the reproduction of bacteria by over 99%. This reduces the risk of the spread of infection – it isn’t a replacement for cleaning and sterilisation.
Hospitals especially operating theatres, have a strict hygiene regime to which electronic systems, like all other equipment, is subject. This will include thorough washing with aggressive detergents. To support this, the whole system needs to be carefully sealed to IP65 standards.
Touch screens in fact make this easier to achieve, eliminating the need to seal multiple individual apertures for buttons. The screen itself can be fully sealed, and will work behind a glass overlay if required. The need for sealing also has implications for the connectivity of the system, of course as well as for cooling. Our blog on marine electronics addresses many of these issues. A very different environment – but some of the design issues are the same.
Each and every medical project is different. There is no single solution that addresses all of the potential challenges the designer might face.