Body surfing

[Dave Birch] At the excellent Mobile Industry Healthcare Summit in London I saw some very good presentations about the impending revolution in the health sector as wireless technology of one form or another begins to miniaturise, power-manage and self-configure. It's that internet of things again, with everything talking to everything else, this time connecting patients, machines, doctors, medicine and everything else.

I was particularly interested in the low-power (under 1v) short-range (couple of metres) "body area networks" that are under development by a number of companies (such as Toumaz, for example). I think I will amend the Consult Hyperion technology timeline that we use to help customers to plan their IT strategies so that it separates personal area networks (PANs) from BANs from now on, especially as a new standard (which is IEEE 802.15.6) is under development for BANs and is expected sometime in 2010. The driver for this is that PANs requires too much power (the "smart bandage" that I saw at the event has a 7 day lifetime with no external power) and the PAN protocols do not handle the requirements of the sector terribly well. The BAN protocol is specifically designed for low data rate and intermittent connections and will one day connect your pacemaker to your iPhone to your insurance company.

They're not here yet, but these things will come, and I rather like the idea of my band-aids chatting to each other and dropping a note to my doctor if things aren't healing properly. Of course, I would expect their communications to be encrypted and digitally-signed since I wouldn't want counterfeit medical equipment in the loop. But I'm sure the technology will be used for other things as well: some positive (helping monitor fitness regimes) and some stupid (such as having your body and your clothes have a dialog).

I also saw a presentation about some medicines that are taken internally (pills) that contain RFID tags that only activate once the pill has dissolved (ie, is in your stomach). The idea is to help to monitor old people to make sure that they are taking the right medicine at the right times. Fascinating stuff, and particularly fascinating to me because I am interested in the identity infrastructure that will be needed to support safe, smart healthcare.


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