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Telehealth Initiatives Driving Software Stack Requirements in Medical Devices

Mobility has been among the key influencers within the medical device market in recent years, the phenomenon helping to promote the advent of teleheath-related solutions, which rely heavily on care provided away from formal healthcare facilities. The concept of telehealth – which can be broadly defined as the incorporation of telecommunications technologies within health-related services – is expected to become increasingly popular as a means through which to decentralize medical services. More and more, medical professionals in developed regions are relying on patients and other in-home care providers to administer a variety of relatively straightforward services in an effort to reduce the burden on the world’s hospitals. Many of these away-from-hospital services, such as ECG and other patient monitoring systems, utilize telehealth technologies to connect to hospital and doctor’s office networks to enable the transmission and sharing of vital patient records.

Accordingly, VDC has observed that engineers building medical devices have exhibited a greater need for software stack components that enable connectivity and data storage/transmission as compared to engineers developing embedded devices targeting other industries. The figure below displays the six software stack components (in addition to embedded/real-time operating systems) cited most frequently by survey respondents developing a medical device as a requirement for their current development project.

USB, TCP/IP, and other wired/wireless connectivity stacks are essential components that enable vital patient records to be shared with medical professionals in remote locations, while file systems and embedded databases allow for the collection and storage of such data. Considering the sensitive nature of the data collected and transmitted by these devices, the presence of security stacks among the top software requirements is also not a surprise. In fact, VDC expects security stacks to be an increasingly required component in a variety of embedded applications, as the embedded industry as a whole has begun to increase its focus on protecting sensitive data from malicious attacks and other outside threats.

Survey responses also revealed that only 19% of engineers developing a medical device used a commercially licensed operating system and nearly 40% used no formal operating system at all, as compared to 27% and 23%, respectively, when considering all survey respondents. While many less-sophisticated medical devices may never have the necessary power, connectivity, or performance requirements to justify the use of a formal, commercial operating system, VDC expects that the effect of the telehealth trend on additional software stack components required in medical devices will strengthen the demand for commercial OSs. Furthermore, OS vendors with extensive expertise and experience in this space – Green Hills Software, Mentor Graphics, Microsoft, QNX Software, and Wind River, to name a few – are well positioned to increase their revenue streams by leveraging that expertise to enable medical device manufacturers to more easily transition to commercial platforms.

VDC investigates this and other vertical market specific trends from across the embedded landscape in our upcoming report, Vertical Markets & Applications, from our 2011 Embedded Software & Tools Market Intelligence Service. This study will provide an analysis of individual vertical market standards, trends, current and emerging practices, and analysis of select applications within the following vertical markets:

  • Automotive/rail/transportation
  • Consumer electronics
  • Industrial automation
  • Medical devices
  • Military/aerospace
  • Mobile phones
  • Office/business automation
  • Retail automation
  • Telecom/datacom

Please contact us for more information.

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