In November 2007, Google first released Android as an operating system (OS), targeted primarily at smart phones. Since then, we have witnessed its phenomenal success. It is today the most popular OS for smart phones.
While most industries have leveraged Android in various ways, the healthcare industry has lagged behind. This is not surprising as traditionally, the healthcare industry has been slow in adopting new technologies. Its biggest impediment has been a highly regulated environment where it often, works better to wait for a technology to mature before adopting it. But in the past few years, interest and adoption of Android as the operating system (OS) in medical devices has grown dramatically. QuEST has played a lead role in developing a wearable device and its Android based application to various medical device manufactures across the globe. While developing this application, there were two factors that influenced `the Android OS selection. First, Android-based devices are gaining wide acceptance in the industry and second, the better user experience it can provide. Medical practitioners were quite comfortable with Android based devices.
So what is driving the growing popularity of Android in the medical device developer community? Apparently, five major benefits.
Benefits of Android
Better user interface and user experience
Most traditional medical device software have a poor look and feel. Nearly all embedded systems in medical devices use proprietary technologies that require the developer to roll-out their own graphic user interface solution. Developers focus on the core functionality of the device and the design and display of the user interface falls low on their list, which is why, most medical devices are low on looks. But poor usability affects the overall product. Android addresses this as it provides layout tools for the developers to build the UI/UX for the system.
Open-source, stable, and proven
Android is proven; millions of phones run the same Android stack. As an open source software, Android offers the advantage of a readily available huge pool of users finding bugs, and a large developer community dedicated to fixing them, supporting faster development, debugging, and testing of the software.
Easy to work on, easy availability of skilled professionals and cost effective
Android development is not overly complex and a large pool of developers can support Android. Being open-source, it is cost effective as well.
Advanced networking and communication out-of-the-box
As an OS primarily developed for smart phones, Android focuses on device communication and networking. It has massive and complete libraries for a variety of wired and wireless communication protocols. It supports and has drivers for a large amount of radio devices from prominent manufacturers. The networking capabilities coupled with the Android middleware and Java tools open up exciting new possibilities for data exchange and interoperability.
The advantage of touch screen
Android is an operating system developed specifically for touch screens. In the past, medical device developers faced challenges in developing touch screen interfaces. But Android makes it easy to design and develop.
While there are clear benefits, Android also poses some challenges. Let’s look at the major challenges that deters its adoption.
Regulatory, size and reliability challenges
Medical devices differ from other devices as they can pose a significant risk to the patient. The FDA classifies all medical devices into three classes – class I, II and III, based on the risk to the patient and the degree of regulatory scrutiny it believes is warranted. Being a bulky OS, Android tend to experience failures more than smaller and easy to test OSs. Smaller OSs are also more reliable. In addition, a key requirement with medical devices is an always ready experience. So while the need to reboot once a year to fix a software lockup may not be a concern for many devices, it is a big concern for a medical device, especially a class III device such as a frozen implantable defibrillator.
Android is therefore more apt for use in class I and II devices while smaller, high-reliability OSs works better for class III devices. That said, any medical device development effort must thoroughly consider and understand the risks introduced by OS selection, irrespective of class the device falls in as each device is different.
Without doubt, Android presents humongous possibilities for medical device developers, especially when developing the next-generation of mobile healthcare. That’s why, it is gaining ground in the industry. But to manage all the challenges that it presents successfully, it is important to consider and work around all the risks. One way is to partner right – choosing a partner that has the resources and expertise to develop and deliver effective products that will not only win regulatory approval, but also accomplish reliable long-term performance.