Medical Device Daily Associate

Thanks to a relatively new software system, companies in the healthcare equipment manufacturing arena can now remotely monitor their products “in the field” and inform customers of any malfunctions, often fixing a problem off-site without having to send a technician on-site.

Questra (Redwood City, California) specializes in what it calls intelligent device management (IDM) software for better control and repair of medical devices ranging from high-end imaging systems to blood testing machines, as well as in a variety of industrial sectors.

Questra recently reported general availability of the latest version of its application, Questra Smart Service Solution 4.1, designed with what it calls the “robust reliability and scalability requirements of today’s leading manufacturers for managing large populations of equipment in customer sites.”

“It allows manufacturers to monitor their equipment at their customer locations around the world,” said Walt Rossi, vice president of marketing.

He told Medical Device Daily that in the past three or four years, this type of technology has become, especially in the healthcare arena, “a much more ‘must-have’ type of capability in a broad range of medical equipment,” particularly of the high-end variety.

He noted that even if a company cannot fix a device remotely – due to, say, a hardware malfunction – the IDM software is able to diagnose the problem so that when an engineer shows up on-site, “he already knows what the problem is” and can fix the system quickly.

Questra Smart Service Solution 4.1 is designed to provide enhanced server reliability and scalability for deployments especially in “clustered system environments,” according to the company. Reliability enhancements include Oracle 9i RAC support, which eliminates single points of failure at the database level. It said that performance also is improved by spreading the system load across multiple servers.

In addition, Questra’s TotalAccess application now supports “clustered” deployments. The TotalAccess application allows any device to be managed remotely from anywhere in the world. Among other scalability advancements, TotalAccess server clustering enables hardware-based “load balancing” to distribute use across multiple servers, allowing them to behave as one higher performance server, according to Rossi.

Other TotalAccess enhancements focus on enhanced security administration and simplified usability.

One company of note that began incorporating Questra’s technology into its products about 18 months ago is GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin).

“It’s essentially to be used in all their medical equipment, from the CAT scan [and] MRI machine on down the chain,” said Rossi.

“Questra continues to make advancements in intelligent device management for massive deployments,” said Steve Crowley, general manager of Clinical Software Engineering at GE Healthcare. “With this new clustered solution, we can more reliably support the heavy transaction loads required when remotely managing thousands of medical devices worldwide.”

GE’s history in device management, according to Rossi, has internal development of a remote software application over the past 10 years, then realizing “that they didn’t want to be in the software development business.”

After what he called an “exhaustive search,” GE came across Questra, Rossi said, and ultimately selected the company to be the providers of the next-generation of their remote service capability, called Insite.

Other companies in the medical device space currently using the technology include the Kodak Health Group (Rochester, New York) and Omnicell (Mountain View, California),

Questra said it also has been successful in marketing its technology to the in vitro diagnostics market to such companies as Diagnostics Products Corp. (DPC; Los Angeles) and Dade Behring Holdings (Deerfield, Illinois)

In this market, the IDM software helps to ensure that equipment is operating within specifications and is able to monitor such things as the use of reagents in blood testing systems.

It is able to tell an operator not only that equipment has failed or is not operating to specifications, but also how “it is being used and how many successful blood tests it runs,” said Rossi.

This type of monitoring enables a variety of other benefits: such as tracking charges on the basis of how many tests are performed; the usage of reagents and automatic generation of reorder requests based on usage patterns.

Not only can the IDM software save customers money, said Rossi, but it can also potentially save lives. He cited a situation faced by DPC as a specific example.

DPC was able “to detect that these blood tests that were run in a particular lab were not run properly and so the results were incorrect,” Rossi said. “DPC actually noticed that and called the blood lab, and said, ‘you need to rerun those tests on this batch because we could detect that their machines were not performing within specifications.’”

Venture capital-funded and founded in 2001, Questra has seen the market for its products start to accelerate in the past two years, Rossi said, and the company’s latest software version was developed to address what it characterizes as a “fundamental shift” in the IDM market, from smaller-scale, pre-production projects to large-scale deployments.

Anticipating this move, it says it has strengthened the design of its application to handle the thousands of potential new users and devices being rolled out in these large-scale production environments.

“As our customers move to large-scale, full-production deployments of IDM-enabled remote service, the importance of scalability and reliability in clustered environments becomes critical,” said Rossi.

Aside from the basic components needed for the software application, the company also will continue to sell upgrades, with a 5.1 version rolled out to customers in the next couple of months, Rossi said.

Questra also works with its clients to assist in developing marketing strategies to sell the software to their end-user customers.

Looking to the future, Rossi said that the plan for now is to remain private and continue to bring out new product offerings as well as helping its customers become successful as they transition from pilot programs to full-scale production and roll-out.