Evolution of Biomedical Test Equipment

Biomedical test equipment lies at the foundation of every hospital and GP surgery. From the simple thermometer to the CT scanner, biomedical equipment is used in every medical diagnosis and, in many cases, is also used for selecting the appropriate treatment option.

Before the widespread availability of biomedical test equipment, the art of medical diagnosis was little more than educated guesswork. The huge advances that we have enjoyed in medical science since the mid nineteenth century have only been possible because innovations in methods of biomedical testing have led the way.

Before 1900
Prior to the 20th century, the evolution of biomedical test equipment had progressed relatively slowly. The invention of the thermometer in 1603, the refinement of the ‘hearing tube’ (later to become the stethoscope) in 1819, and the discovery of X-rays in 1895 represent perhaps the most significant steps in the development of biomedical testing. It is significant that these important advances occurred within a period stretching over nearly 300 years. The discovery of X-rays can perhaps be considered to be the pivotal breakthrough in medical diagnosis, and ultimately helped to launch the equipment-based age of medicine. This development was relatively swiftly followed by the invention of the electrocardiograph (ECG) in 1903, which introduced the style of instrumentation for physiological measurement that is used universally today.

It was during the 1960s that biomedical equipment technology evolved into its own distinct field within the medical sciences. Dedicated engineers known as Biomedical Equipment Technicians (BMETs) were given the responsibility of maintaining and repairing the instruments and equipment used in clinical laboratories, radiology departments, surgery, anesthesia, respiratory therapy and other high-tech hospital departments. Qualifications in biomedical technology are now widely available, and many people dedicate their careers to the maintenance and repair of testing equipment.

Early to mid 2000s
During the 2000s, biomedical equipment underwent a significant change of emphasis, as the focus was moved to integrating several individual analyzers into a single, multi-function device combining many features. One example of this change can be seen in the development of the MedTester 5000c, an integrated, automated biomedical test system, launched by Fluke Biomedical prior to 2005. This unique, fully automated electrical safety and biomedical performance inspection device combined all the important features of conventional manual electrical-safety analyzers into a single device, and still claims to be the most versatile analyzer available on the market for biomedical professionals and manufacturers.

In November 2003, the SC-5 SimCube® NIBP Simulator from Pronk Technology was launched, combining the functions of a manometer and an NIBP simulator. This simulator was designed to complement the existing SimCube SC series, and offered ECG, respiratory, arrhythmia, pacer simulation, and IBP modes for accurate biomedical testing. The SimCube simulated real-life oscillometric pulses by varying both the shape and size of the wave as cuff pressure changes.

In 2005, RTI Electronics launched its “all-in-one” X-ray multimeter for quality assurance purposes, known as Barracuda. The Barracuda was able to measure on all modalities; R/F, mammography, fluoroscopy, pulsed fluoroscopy, dental, panoramic dental and CT systems, and could be configured to meet all users’ specific needs and requirements. The Barracuda was compact and easily transported in its carrying case. Furthermore, as the Barracuda was a modular system, it could be configured in many different ways, with a number of add-on probes being available (including mAs probes, ionization chambers, dose detectors and light detectors).

Another example of a multi-functional device is the Fluke ESA612 electrical safety analyzer, launched in 2009 by Fluke Biomedical. This device offered the functionality of a simulator, multimeter and electrical-safety analyzer in a single test tool.The combination of several features into a single small, portable, ergonomic, lightweight device, incorporating a large, easy-to-read display, meant that it could be used in field applications and in situations where multiple devices would be cumbersome.

In addition to developing the ESA612 electrical safety analyzer, Fluke also launched the TNT 12000 X-Ray Test Device. The most comprehensive instrument available for assuring quality and safety of diagnostic X-ray imaging systems, the TNT 12000 X-Ray Test Device measures kVp, radiation dose, dose rate, time, and half value layer in a single exposure. Plus, a long battery life ensures uninterrupted operation all day. As testament to this product’s novelty, it recently won the Medical Design Excellence Award in the radiological and electromechanical devices category. Earning highest marks in design, technology, innovation, user-related features, and benefits to both patients and the overall healthcare system, the TNT 12000 X-Ray Test Device is considered “best-in-class” for its contribution to improving patient safety, reducing cost, improving systems uptime, ease of use, and overall innovation in the field of diagnostic imaging quality assurance.

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