Wireless foot switches for the control of medical devices are gaining acceptance and growing in popularity — prompting OEMs to design medical equipment for use with a wireless foot switch or to accept a wireless foot switch as a pre-sale or post-sale option.

Fig. 1. – Board-level receivers can be integrated into medical equipment as either a factory option or field-upgrade.

Such designs introduce two new elements into the design of the medical device. The first set of design considerations revolve around the use of wireless foot controls. The second set of design considerations involves the associated wireless receiver located on or in the medical device itself.

Foot Control Design Considerations

Wireless Protocol Selection

Today’s technologies present the OEM with an array of wireless protocols from which to choose. A sampling includes ZigBee®, BlueTooth®, Infrared, WLAN, and customized protocols designed expressly for medical applications.

Key selection factors may include: compatibility with the assessed risk in the application, power consumption and power management, response time, inherent safety and reliability, and cost. Low-risk applications, such as a medical camera capturing reference images, may be adequately addressed with a unidirectional protocol such as Infrared. Alternatively a higher-risk application, such as a laser-based surgical instrument or a high-frequency surgical generator, may be better addressed with a bidirectional protocol. The latter may offer better noise immunity, greater encryption possibilities (for “pairing” the foot control with a specific piece of equipment), and the ability to verify the integrity of the communications link in real time.

Battery Selection

The type of batteries to power the foot control will typically be determined by: required operating voltage of the foot control electronics, space constraints to accommodate the required cell(s), frequency of recharging or battery replacement (typically influenced by the wireless protocol selected), the power consumption during a typical procedure, and the number of procedures per day.

Required Operating Voltage/Space Constraints

Most wireless solutions will require at least 3.6 volts to operate the electronics. Thus the battery chemistry selection will gate the number of cells required, and (hence) the space requirements. More cells may require a larger access door for replacement — with attendant moisture sealing requirements.

Battery Replacement/Recharging Techniques

Regardless of the type of batteries used, ease-of-replacement may be an important design consideration — especially if done in the field by the user. In applications requiring frequent replacement, fast access without the need for tools may be a design objective. Depending upon the application, maintaining the sealing integrity of the battery compartment may also be important.

Where secondary batteries are chosen, the method of recharging may also be a major design variable. Current techniques include use of a medical-grade, plug-in wall recharger; conductive recharging in a charging cradle or docking station; inductive recharging; or simply replacing the discharged battery with a fully-charged cell from a charging station on the host system.

Wireless Receiver Design Considerations

Fig. 2 – Wireless operation lends itself even to the most complex foot control requirements.

Receiver Location

OEMs have two options for locating the wireless receiver module: externally (on or attached to the host system) or internally (integrated within the medical device console).

Whether designed as an optional addon accessory or as an element of a new product, an externally mounted receiver requires the electronics to be housed in a rugged package that can be conveniently attached to the medical device. Here the designer must consider:

  • A location that does not interfere with foot control (transmitter) and receiver communications
  • The method for mounting the receiver to the host device, e.g. docking pocket, magnetic latch, hard mounting with screws, et al).
  • Providing power from the host system through the receiver connector (typically via a pin on the host systems’ receiver input connector).

An internally located receiver can consist of a PCB assembly that is mated to the host system electronics, or a bracketed unit that can be quickly installed. Here the designer must consider:

  • Space constraints that may affect the dimensional requirements for an internally located receiver.
  • Whether to integrate the receiver electronics with the host electronics during initial production or whether to have the receiver electronics as a discrete device to be connected to the host electronics during final system assembly.
  • If a discrete device, how power will be supplied to these electronics. Internally located receiver modules generally cost less, as they typically do not need a housing, mounting hardware, or a cable (from the receiver housing to the foot switch input connector or the mating female connector).