When you think of a modern operating room (OR) there are a few things that come to mind: doctors, nurses, patients, medicine, medical equipment and tools. However, what often gets less attention, yet makes a vital impact on patient care, are the electromechanical switches and components that operate today’s medical equipment, medical devices and tools. These are extensions of the medical professional’s hand, generating the haptic feedback providing them with a level of assurance to confidentially monitor and execute important medical procedures.
In today’s medical device industry, there is a race to having the best performing devices. But the “turbo boost” to those device and tool designs is incorporating excellent performance and near-perfect ergonomics with the best haptic response.
For this reason, the engineers responsible for developing these devices must make sure that careful consideration goes into the design of each product’s functionality, with special consideration to which switches and interfaces are used. The proper haptics need to match the device’s functionality. There’s a huge emphasis on the proper tactile touch and feel. The proper selection of the haptic configuration can boost a medical professional’s confidence level while using a device, improving surgical outcomes and resulting in improved patient quality of life during recovery and post-operation.
Though seemingly simple, switch selection is not as easy as it may seem. There are enough products from different vendors in all kinds of price points to cause design engineers to lose sleep. You can find 16 switches on a board, all with the same ergonomic and electrical specifications, but every single one has a different haptic response. All have the same functionality, but every switch a different force, sound, travel and feel. To make sense of it all, design engineers must consider several performance factors – product life cycle, reliability and customizability – to select the right medical switch partner and deliver the best possible solution to the OR.
While some regions have single-use restrictions on surgical instruments, others may sterilize and reuse their devices many times. In those instances, the hardware must be able to withstand Gamma, EtO/EO or autoclaving processing. As such, long product lifecycle should be a key factor when designing medical devices built for modern ORs.
From blood and body fluids, to harsh sterilization chemicals, to being handled roughly in hectic situations – regardless of location, many medical devices face these challenging conditions. To meet these challenges, medical devices and their components should be corrosion-resistant and durable enough to stand up to the realities of the OR. Components such as sealed nano pushbutton switches and detect switches need to meet long life cycles demands. They need to handle serious impact, as well as a doctor simply pressing too hard on a button. A long lifecycle product switch or push button ensures medical devices will work reliably for years in all kinds of challenging scenarios.
Like many other industries, healthcare is becoming increasingly digital and the OR is no different. In fact, most procedures are taking place under magnification. In other words, rather than looking directly at the patient and their own hands, doctors are interacting with a screen that enlarges the hard-to-see areas being treated. This makes it critical for doctors to feel and hear that a medical device or tool is responding properly. For example, with various laparoscopic procedures, surgeons depend on the tactile feedback from their camera assisted electro-surgery instruments while sealing and detaching vessels.
To create a doctor approved consistent feel, engineers should design devices using a selection of switches and components that are highly reliable. Tactile, rocker and pushbutton switches can be used to create an audible response in medical devices that offer dependable haptic sensing and condition. These switches can even be customized based on the specific needs of different procedures to meet various haptic requirements.
Despite a large number of medical device suppliers and an even bigger catalog of commercial off-the-shelf components, sometimes the perfect solution is one that hasn’t been created yet. In fact, most successful design involves some fine-tuning to provide the exact switch performance required. Fortunately, some medical switch suppliers are willing to make modifications to existing products to meet the customer’s needs.
Just because a product is custom-made, doesn’t mean it will break the bank or have long-lead time to deliver. Some solutions are easier than others. For example, a simple swap of a spring in the switch can make a world of difference. Using a new material in switch construction to make a common unsealed switch sealed is another instance. Maybe the perfect switch was selected, but it needs to pass autoclave cycling, creating another situation where customization is the best path forward. Regardless of the modifications, communication and understanding the requirements for both development and the end-product are essential to make this approach work.
A medical device that doesn’t function properly could mean the difference between life and death. Medical professionals in the U.S., China and Europe demand superior performance from their surgical tools, and for good reason. They rely on proper performance in their instruments and tools to deliver the best patient care possible – and switches are the mission critical components that make this possible. By “designing-in” switches with long product lifecycles that are reliable and customizable when needed, design engineers can be sure they are making the best choices for today’s ORs.
Roger Bohannan is the global segment leader for C&K. He is responsible for increasing visibility into C&K’s medical product portfolio, promoting a customized haptic experience for medical device manufacturing partners, ensuring support for the most technologically advanced requirements from the medical segment, sharing visibility into new product development and matching C&K’s advanced R&D with the company’s strategic partners’ next generation technology needs.