Being safe: electronic call systems for hospitals

Interview with D. Eng. Matthias Rychetsky, Managing Partner, EFE Elektronik- Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft m.b.H. (English: EFE Electrical Research and Development Association)


Call systems: every hospital patient is familiar with them, but hardly anyone gives any thought to how they work. And yet they fulfill an important function because in an emergency, they “call” for help. Just think what might happen if they didn’t work. That is why they are subject to stringent safety regulations. We spoke with D.Eng. Matthias Rychetsky, who is intimately familiar with call systems.

Image: Matthias Rychetsky; Copyright: FOTOSTUDIO HIRCH/Matthias Rychetsky

Matthias Rychetsky; © FOTOSTUDIO HIRCH/Matthias Rychetsky

Dr. Rychetsky, how can call systems contribute to hospital safety?

Matthias Rychetsky: The DIN VDE 0834 applies to call systems, e.g. in hospitals or nursing homes. They ensure the safety of patients by calling for human help and services in emergencies. This can be done by manually pressing a button, for instance, by the patient himself. However, under certain conditions, additional information may also be transmitted, for instance, data from electrical medical equipment at an intensive care unit that patients depend on.

What standards must this type of system meet?

Rychetsky: DIN VDE 0834 for call systems in hospitals, nursing homes or correctional facilities specifies all aspects that need to be taken into account. It is not merely a technical standard, it also answers questions as to how a call system should be operated properly, which acceptance inspections there are and how it should be serviced. The DIN standard consists of two parts. The first part pertains to the planning, set-up, modification, testing and operation of a call system. The second part relates to everything the manufacturer has to consider, for instance, what environmental conditions the equipment needs to withstand. That means when a manufacturer develops or produces items, he/she needs to primarily focus on the second part. In contrast, the operator needs to adhere more to the first part.

Needless to say, this type of normative specification is always in flux and changing. The last update of the first part took place in June 2016. The second part will also soon be revised. For instance, the current changes applied to many cross references that were no longer correct. In addition, the scope of application and coverage has been expanded and is now more specific. Previously, psychiatric hospitals, for instance, were not explicitly mentioned; this has now been corrected.

The protection areas and application areas, each divided into A and B, have also been revised and adapted. These are two categories that are regulated in varying degrees of strictness. There have been frequent discussions on this topic, for instance, as it pertained to construction costs for example. Take protection area B for example, which required an additional secure spatial separation according to EN 60601-1 if the patient was primarily connected to a medical electrical device. Yet nobody was prevented from potentially moving the device into a section under protection area A and use it there – even if it must not be operated there according to regulations. A call system is also not easy to retrofit. That’s why it makes sense to apply and install the stricter protection area B standard everywhere right from the start. The distinction between the two areas is therefore subsequently being eliminated.

The old version also required the call system to always have its very own network. Needless to say, this is no longer state-of-the-art thinking when you consider major university hospitals that operate facilities in different parts of town. They prefer to access existing DSL connections instead of setting up their own lines across town. Until now, however, this was not permitted, which was not easy for many customers to understand. At least outside the so-called organizational entities, there was now a loophole. In addition to this DIN, there are obviously various other standards hospitals need to comply with and that DIN VDE 0834 makes reference to.
Image: Hand of a person in the hospital bed, next to the call button; Copyright:

Every hospital patient uses them, but few know about the technology behind the call systems; ©

What do your call systems specifically have to do with swarm (collective) intelligence?

Rychetsky: We have developed a call system that exceeds the requirements of the standard, namely the division into individual sections. We determined that each terminal should be self-sustaining. That means the intelligence is located in the terminal while the complete system is made up of the individual terminals. The terminals can communicate with each other and form a complete system. So there is no server and therefore also no central component that could fail and cause problems.
Foto: Simone Ernst; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Simone Ernst and translated by Elena O'Meara.