base station, also potentially wearable.
The base station itself would then process and transmit data to the patient’s
EMR via the Internet.
Potential complications include the
power needs of the sensors, both to
monitor the patient and to communicate with the base station. Early BANs
(such as those engineered by the Irish
company Intelesens) rely on Bluetooth
for wireless communication, but in
practice Bluetooth is way overpowered
for a BAN application because it was
designed for wireless communications
over an area up to five times the size of
even a large human body. This means
Bluetooth is power hungry, when in
fact a much-smaller-scale wireless network with less need for power would
be better-suited to the job of monitoring individual human bodies.
The preferred solution will involve
creating a new wireless protocol for
BAN use, including a reserved frequency range. Today, frequency blocks
are allocated by the U. S. government
for all sorts of applications, from FM
radio to emergency responders to wireless computer networks, but no such
frequency block has been dedicated
for BAN use. In July 2009 the Federal
launched a public request for comments
on several items related to establishing
BAN frequencies. Initially up for consideration are ranges between 2300Mhz
and 2483Mhz, much of which is already
used by other technologies (sharing
is not precluded), and 5150Mhz and
5250Mhz, used primarily for aviation
When and if the FCC formally
allocates a frequency block to BAN
use, vendors might be motivated to
build an ecosystem of interoperable
products, including low-power body
sensors. Eventually, we may see BANs
expanded to support a variety of body
information systems; imagine, for
example, a contact lens with a tiny
LED display showing our vital signs in
real time as reported by various body
sensors communicating over a BAN.
As much as it may sound like science
fiction, researchers at the University of
Washington are working on the foun-
dations of just such a system today.
Despite world-class medical research
and educational systems in the U.S.,
the healthcare delivery infrastructure
and member nations do not all share
the same protocols, thus presenting a
major challenge in promoting interop-
erable EMR adoption.
FOR BODY AREA NETWORKS TO ACHIEVE
WIDESPREAD APPLICATION, THE SENSORS
MUST SHRINK TO A SIZE THAT IS EITHER
EASILY PORTABLE OR EVEN IMPLANTABLE.
is often more nimble in other industrialized nations. One need look only at
EMR adoption to see the difference;
for example, in The Netherlands, 99
percent of physicians use electronic
medical records, and in the U.K, it’s 89
percent. Indeed, evidence suggests that
as these countries began to go digital,
both healthcare costs and outcomes
simultaneously began to improve.
Advocacy and coordination of med-
ical informatics initiatives throughout
the European Union are led by the
European Institute for Health Records.
Though some EU member nations
enjoy advanced healthcare systems, IT
investment across the EU varies widely,
ises positive benefits, both economi-
cally and for individual quality of life.
But going digital is also very difficult
technically, financially, legally, and, of
course, politically. Modernizing medi-
cine is a global challenge. But then, if
we’ve learned anything from visits to
our own doctors over the years, it’s that
doing the hard work now is good for us
in the long run.
Aaron Weiss is a technology and humor
writer living in upstate New York and can
be found at iwritefunny.com.