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How Switches Can Support Doctors Saving Lives in the Operating Room

C&K How Switches Can Support Doctors Saving Lives in the Operating Room
The consistency, longevity, and quality of the switches and components used in medical devices can have a direct impact on performance in the operating room.

Doctors, nurses, cutting-edge innovative technology—all are vital to give proper care to patients in and outside the operating room (OR). However, what often gets less focus, but also makes an impact in a surgical environment, are the electromechanical switches and components that activate the medical devices used by doctors, nurses, and technicians.

When it comes to performance inside the OR, medical devices must not fail, since the patient’s level of care is at risk. The professional feel of a device offers the doctor a level of confidence while in use. If that design incorporates the proper touch and feel to the overall experience, the doctor’s confidence level in using the device properly is enhanced. Moreover, the surgical outcomes can improve, and the quality of life after a procedure can be greater, due to the interaction between the doctor and device.

The bridge between the doctor’s hands and the advanced surgical tool in the doctor’s hands is the switch, which provides the level of confidence needed by the doctor (or nurse) in the OR. This is why engineering of that switch must be thoroughly vetted through the R&D, design, and approval processes by the manufacturer to ensure that the switch is up to the task.

Doctors and nurses already function under stressful conditions inside the OR. The last thing they need to worry about is whether or not their surgical instruments “feel different” during high-risk procedures. When it comes to performance in the operating room, the consistency, lognevity, and quality of the switches and components used in medical devices are critical to supporting a level of confidence in the OR.


Today’s modern operating rooms have doctors performing critical procedures while under magnification—e.g., the doctor is not looking directly at the body or at the medical device being used but is instead looking at a screen that enlarges the hard-to-see areas being treated. For this reason, the doctor needs to know through feeling and sound that the medical device is responding as designed in every situation.

For example, with various laparoscopic procedures, surgeons depend on the tactile feedback from their electro-surgery instruments while sealing and detaching vessels. Since procedures are performed percutaneously with the aid of a camera, it is critical that the instrument has a consistent feel in the doctor’s hands every time. Confidence in the device can potentially dwindle if the doctor feels any inconsistencies. To avoid this, engineers should design devices using a selection of components that are highly consistent from switch to switch and from device to device.

Tactile, rocker, or pushbutton switches can be used to create an audible response on medical devices that provide doctors and nurses with a consistent haptic sensing or condition. These switches can also be customized based on the procedure’s process, so that every time that particular device is used, the doctor will recognize its feel and sound. This enables the doctor to relate those senses with a successful step, providing assurance in an otherwise complex surgical procedure. The haptic tolerance needs to be within the differential recognition range for a human. A science some suppliers specialize in.


From environmental performance to the component footprint, the product life cycle of medical devices is key when it comes to determining the switches and components that should be used to meet industry-specific needs.

Increases in speed, reductions in feature size, changes in application requirements for user-friendliness, and other changes are happening quickly in the medical industry—and many of the components that make up a medical device have a life cycle that is significantly longer than the device itself.

Additionally, industry standards aren’t uniform worldwide. While the United States may have “one use” restrictions on surgical instruments, other regions may sterilize and reuse their devices. For these locations, components used inside devices that are sterilized and reused typically need to withstand Gamma, EtO, or autoclaving processing.

No matter where surgical procedures are being performed globally, medical devices need to be corrosion-resistant and durable to stand up to the demanding conditions of a hospital’s operating room—from blood and body fluids, to harsh sterilization chemicals, to getting bumped around in a hectic atmosphere. Components such as sealed nano pushbutton switches and detect switches need to handle serious impact, or merely a doctor pressing too hard on a button, ensuring medical devices will work reliably for years in all kinds of challenging situations.


With the constantly changing requirements of medical devices, it should come as no surprise that sometimes the right component for the job needs to be customized. Despite a large number of medical device suppliers, and an even bigger catalog of commercial off-the-shelf components, most design involves some compromises to provide the exact performance required.

Although customizing components sounds complicated, many suppliers are willing to make modifications to existing products to save on costs and headaches. A good supplier will take the time to understand the specific requirements of the medical device and make recommendations about the best way to integrate components and switches to meet those requirements.

And it’s important to note that customization does not mean the device will be expensive, exclusive or have long-lead times to deliver. Some solutions are easier than others, but some suppliers will act like a partner and collaborate with OEMs who are delivering their medical devices to hospitals and doctors to determine a realistic timeline, the cost of customization, and how they plan to test and troubleshoot the part if it’s not functioning properly. Once all that is complete, it will become just another “off-the-shelf” product available through distribution.

A medical device is highly-regulated and precisely designed and tested, which is especially crucial when it comes to designing the life-saving products that doctors and nurses depend upon in operating rooms everywhere. By ensuring proper consistency, long life-cycles and specific customization needs, medical device engineers can be sure they’re choosing the best switches and components that are designed to stand up to today’s demanding operating room requirements.

TAGS: Automation
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