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Accelerating mobile health systems through technology

Fri, 10/08/2010 - 7:04am
Sid Shaw, Marketing Manager, Texas Instruments

Sid_ShawSeveral factors are enabling the mobile health initiative ranging from aging populations, the rise in healthcare costs, the need to provide remote healthcare, as well as the increased awareness and demand for living healthy and staying fit (Figure 1). Issues in the past that have prevented this initiative from being realized earlier were the need for connectivity, safety, and reliability, as well as lower cost and reduced power. Since then, there has been a rapid rise of mobile phone penetration globally. 




Figure 1. Drivers impacting healthcare

Much is being done to shape technology to improve the quality and accessibility of medical equipment. One key factor impacting wireless medical solutions is to significantly reduce the size of medical equipment ? making it possible to get portable equipment from the clinics into the doctors’ offices, and into the homes of patients (Figure 2). To be effective, one needs to have a full understanding of analog and embedded processing, systems insight, global support infrastructure, advanced process technology and medical industry involvement. All the while, high standards for quality and reliability in demand by the medical market must be met. 

Figure 2. Wireless impact on healthcare

With the recent availability of low-power wireless technologies such as Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) and ANT™ being adopted by smart phones as well as single mode peripherals, an ecosystem is starting to emerge that will enable a more wirelessly-connected healthcare monitoring system by care givers and doctors. While some home health devices might be mobile (ex: activity monitor), others are typically stationed in parts of the home (ex: weight scale) that may not be visible to a wireless gateway. Since people are constantly moving about their homes, a wearable device such as a watch or some other jewelry can automatically transfer buffered data from a remote weigh scale to a gateway in another part of the house.

Important to most patient-monitoring systems is ensuring the data integrity, as well as mobility and system flexibility. Wi-Fi™ and Ethernet are interfaces that allow hospitals to network all of their facility equipment, in addition to connecting to a patient’s home. Caregivers can now connect to a patient remotely when the patient wears a wireless body sensor network. This can be done using the hospital’s internal network or links to the patient’s home security system, aggregation manager, or even a cell phone. These can be made to reach a caregiver or call center enabling constant monitoring in the privacy of a patient’s home (Figure 3). The Continua Health Alliance, a non-profit, open industry coalition comprised of healthcare and technology companies working in collaboration to improve the quality of personal healthcare, aims to establish a system of interoperable personal telehealth solutions that fosters patient independence. It also empowers people and organizations to better manage health and wellness. The push for certification from the healthcare industry will further enhance the adoption of all the interoperable devices working together to enhance the healthcare ecosystem. 

Figure 3. Healthcare monitoring ecosystem

Interfaces and Standards

Figure 4. Wireless interfaces and standards

In an effort to enable an ecosystem of interoperable medical devices, Continua has defined various medical devices (Figure 4) that connect to the data aggregators, or managers, via transports such as USB, BLE, and Zigbee. Continua has adopted these off-the-shelf standards to transmit and receive data between various medical devices. If a medical device manufacturer wants to use the Continua logo on their product, they are required to go through a rigorous certification process.

Range, data rate and power consumption are key considerations when selecting a wireless interface. Bluetooth and BLE protocols provide for an acceptable range, but have a higher data rate than Zigbee. BLE is more power-efficient for sensors than classic Bluetooth, allowing smaller form factor batteries. Alternatively, Zigbee provides moderate data rate and duty cycle and supports a mesh network, allowing multiple sensors in the same system with a wider range.

Choosing the right solution for peripheral devices

There are a series of checklists that product designers should go through when deciding on the wireless technology and solution to choose for their peripheral products.

• Network processor versus true single-chip solution 
    o Network processor: 
        o provides simple interface and easy integration 
        o eliminates port of existing application code 
    o Single-chip solution: 
        o minimizes cost by reducing components on the BoM 
        o takes less board space and can optimize power consumption

• Finding a vendor that provides a total solution:
– Do you need a network processor or single chip?
– Do you require a fully compliant, integrated BLE stack?
– Do you need single or dual-mode support?
– Do you require profiles, an easy to use interface?
– Will you design in a module or integrate a chip directly on the board?
– Do you need RF design support?
– Do you require third party hardware, software, system integration support?

Depending on the product and business needs, different combinations may be chosen. Texas Instruments has made the process easier for manufacturers by providing multiple solutions to fit their needs.

Conclusion
The success of mobile health care from a technology enabler standpoint relies on providing solutions that allow portability, connectivity and data security. You can ancicipate that healthcare monitoring systems will move quickly from the hospital to the home. This will help doctors and patients to monitor trends and events surrounding the patients health. Providing secure infrastructures with feature sets for monitoring systems are definitely key.

References

• Download TI’s Medical Applications Guides: www.ti.com/medicalguides.
• Check out TI’s wireless solutions that enable smart sensors: 
    o www.ti.com/ant
    o www.ti.com/bluetoothlowenergy

About the Author

Sid Shaw is the marketing manager for business development of low-power products in TI’s wireless connectivity business unit. Sid received his Bachelors degree in Computing Engineering and a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Sid can be reached at ti_sidshaw@list.ti.com.

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