Medical Display's vs. TV

What’s the difference between a medical display and a TV?


At face value, medical displays and TV’s look very similar. They can have the same resolution and be the same size, so what’s the difference? Despite that fact that they look the same, the size and resolution is about where the similarities stop. Why is that?

3 Letters: FDA

In 1906 the Food and Drug Administration was formed to protect and promote public health (Also, in 1906, the football rules committee legalized the forward pass!) While the FDA’s domain includes, as you would expect, food and pharmaceutical regulation it also branches into other areas of public health, including healthcare. Fast forward to 1976, after multiple deaths and infertility caused by a contraceptive device (Dalkon Shield), the Food-Drug-and-Cosmetics-Act was amended to include regulation and review of medical devices with the intent of providing the public reasonable assurances of safe and effective devices.


The FDA classifies medical devices under 3 different categories based on the risk they pose to patients:

  1. Class I: These devices pose the lowest risk and include things like tongue depressors (does that make you gag just hearing it?), bandages and crutches. 

  2. Class II: These devices pose an intermediate risk and include things such as electrocardiographs, hearing aids and, yes, displays used in operations.

  3. Class III: These medical devices pose the greatest risk to patient health and include things such as implantable pacemakers, stents, and heart valves.


Medical displays, being a class II device, have to go through a testing process, known as the 510(k), with the FDA before they are cleared for market. If you do a little digging you will notice that some devices are ‘cleared for use’ by the FDA and some are ‘approved’ by the FDA, in which case I would applaud you for your attention to detail. When the FDA uses the 510(k) process to review a product they deem it cleared. When they use the premarket approval process (also known as PMA) then they say it was approved. The less stringent 510(k) approval process is used for class II devices and the more thorough PMA process is used for class III devices. Only about 1% of medical devices are screened via the PMA process.

 Because of the standards imposed by the FDA, medical screens have to be built in a way that ensures patient safety, whereas TV’s don’t have to adhere to the same standards. Below are some of the distinguishing factors between your TV at home and a display in a hospital.

How they’re different:


Reliability: If your TV burns out in the 4th quarter of a game that’s a bummer. If a medical display being used in an operation stops working, it’s a massive problem. Additionally, even slight problems, like a burned-out pixel, could lead to an incorrect assessment in the lab, where at home you wouldn’t even notice it. Medical displays are built to be more reliable than their consumer counter parts.


Brightness: Known in the industry as luminance, the brightness of a display affects the physician’s ability to see all the details clearly. This effect is magnified when the screen is being viewed at an angle, as a brighter screen is required to see the same level of detail when you aren’t facing the screen head-on. Medical displays are brighter than their consumer counter parts and are designed to be more resistant to fade over time. The brightness setting is also fixed, ensuring that physicians are making consistent and accurate assessments. 


 Color Depth: Distinguishing colors, and interpreting greyscale images is very important for physicians. Medical displays distinguish colors and shades from another in a uniform and accurate manner, allowing for correct analysis in the lab.


 Durability: Medical displays are built to withstand a lot more abuse. They have stronger frames, sometimes metal, and thick plexiglass protection on the front. They also need to be easily cleaned and sterilized and cannot contain materials that could harbor pathogens.


 Use-Specific Features: In addition to the quality of the display, many medical screens have built in specific-use features. Some have handles around the edges so that they can be pushed and pulled easily when mounted on a swing arm. Also, some have the ability to receive multiple inputs so that they can display multiple different inputs all at once. 


So, when can I use a consumer display in a medical setting?

These types of decisions are best left to the Biomedical Engineers at hospitals, but generally a consumer grade display is fine for any application that a failure wouldn’t risk the quality of care a patient receives. You will find consumer grade screens in control rooms, at front desks, and at other workstations.

Looking for a high-quality medical display for your interventional lab? We make some of the best in the industry: Lets talk!

Jake Thayer