Spacelabs-SL2400

One of the product managers at Spacelabs was kind enough to call me up the other day and fill me in on their new wireless patient monitors. I've written in the past about their new SL 2400 wireless monitor, and since then, Spacelabs has released the new SL 2600.

First let's talk about the radio. Spacelabs is using an off the shelf radio as I speculated before - they're using the Symbol CF (Compact Flash) 802.11b radio that's designed for embedded systems applications. This embedded radio card has a 5 year life cycle, rather than the 6 to 18 month life cycle that commercial radio cards have. This sounds like the same radio that GE is using in their new Dash.

Next let's look at encryption. Yes, all that stuff I said in my previous post about WEP was true; WEP is wimpy encryption. But, Spacelabs' implementation of security (the reason for encryption ) on their new monitors are good. First, Spacelabs applies their own application layer encryption to everything that comes out of the monitor and over the network. And like most monitoring vendors, they don't send waveform data with patient identifiers. Once patient context is established, waveform data is associated to the patient using internal codes. Finally, Spacelabs has validated their monitors with BlueSocket network security appliances for the truly paranoid among us.

When it comes to connectivity, Spacelabs has an advantage. Back when Carl Lombardi ran the company, he split it in two and created a medical device division and clinical information systems division, in the same company. I guess Carl was a visionary Connectologist. Now, Spacelabs finds itself a medical device vendor once more, but their history, along with some pretty intense training, has given Spacelabs an understanding of wireless connectivity that is arguably better than everyone else. Evidence of this knowledge can be seen in their approach to network integration - i.e., getting their medical devices to work on a hospital's network. Spacelabs has a detailed site survey they use, but beyond that every network is unique. They don't require a private subnet or a VPN, although VPNs are a common network design tool used to deliver performance for critical applications like medical devices or VoIP. Most medical device vendors do everything they can to keep their networks separate in order to reduce (to zero, hopefully) common variables found in general purpose computing environments.

The new SL 2600 sounds like a more feature-rich version of the 2400.

The UltraviewSL2600 is well-suited to a broad range of
environments, including perioperative, emergency and neonatal care
applications. The monitor's compact size and larger display, coupled
with advanced monitoring features, provide a flexible solution that
enables hospitals to augment their existing installation of Spacelabs
monitoring, as the new monitor has full network compatibility with all
existing Spacelabs UltraviewSL Ultraview® and PCMSTM centrals and bedside monitors.

Additionally, a wireless networking option supports central
surveillance during patient transport, when patients are often under
greater stress and risk, enhancing patient safety and improving
emergency response time. Together with Spacelabs' new Clinical Event
Interface to pagers and other handheld devices, these capabilities
serve to accelerate the flow of critical, time-sensitive patient
information to caregivers, regardless of patient or caregiver location.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Spacelabs has service menues on their wireless monitors that RF and network performance data that's sufficient to do a manual site survey. I also got this additional bolus of information:

[...] the monitor itself auto-switches between Wireless and Hardwired networking.
 When a "live" hardwired network connection is established, no wireless signal
strength indicator is displayed.  (The radio turns itself off).  However, unplug
the network cable and the wireless radio turns on automatically, and the signal
strength indicator is displayed.
This is
a useful feature that allows clinicians to determine what mode of networking (HW
or WLAN) the monitor is working off of.  As well, the monitor allows for
separate IP network addressing for both hardwired and wireless networking
modes.

The signal strength indicator mentioned is the classic "chicken foot" with a multi bar signal strength meter that also indicates whether the radio is associated with an access point through color coding,