Bipin Thomas

Diagnostic Directions - Wireless Body Area Network is revolutionizing personalized health care delivery worldwide

December 02, 2015
Health care costs are continuing to rise and governments in various countries are trying to lay down policies to lower costs.
Wireless networking technology seems to be the latest solution adopted by vendors as a means of lowering costs by improving patient monitoring in hospitals and at home. This is because the wireless networking technology helps to reduce reliance on scarce labor, while increasing the accuracy and timeliness of vital patient data.
One major cost in health care is manually recording information for critical-care patients. In order to solve this challenge, one approach is to record and monitor using wired sensors. However, because of the risk of infection, considerable time is spent setting up, as these need to be disconnected and reconnected when patients are moved.
Hence, the health care industry is unilaterally moving to the solution of using wireless sensors for recording and monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, blood glucose and oxygen levels, blood pressure, pulse, temperature and respiration. If a patient is in a medical facility, the recorded data would remain local, where doctors or nurses could process it. If remote, the recorded data needs to be transmitted to a hospital, doctor’s office or other monitoring station. Implants connected to medical devices are another important wireless application. These networks that operate around and inside the human body are broadly categorized as a Wireless Body Area Network (WBAN).
A WBAN contains a number of portable, miniaturized, and autonomous sensor nodes that monitor the body function for health and emergency applications. It provides long term health monitoring of patients under natural physiological states without constraining their normal activities. In-body sensor networks, especially, allow communication between implanted devices and remote monitoring equipment. They are capable of collecting information from implantable cardioverter defibrillators in order to detect and treat ventricular tachyarrhythmia and to prevent sudden cardiac death.
A number of industry initiatives, such as CodeBlue and Mobi-Health, have contributed to establishing a proactive WBAN system. These systems perform real-time analysis of sensor data, provide real-time feedback to the user and forward the user information to a telemedicine server. MIT Media Lab is developing MIThril that gives the complete insight of a humanmachine interface. HIT lab focuses on quality interfaces and innovative wearable computers.
NASA is developing a wearable physiological monitoring system for astronauts called the Life- Guard system. IEEE aims to provide low power in-body and on-body wireless communication standards for medical applications.
WBANs have great potential for several applications in remote medical diagnosis. Inbody applications include monitoring and program changes for pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators, control of bladder function and restoration of limb movement. On-body medical applications include monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and respiration.
These cover various medical areas including:
Cardiovascular Diseases: WBAN is a key technology to prevent the occurrence of myocardial infarction, it monitors episodic events or any other abnormal condition and can be used for ambulatory health monitoring.
Cancer Detection: Cancer remains one of the biggest threats to human life. The population diagnosed with cancer is increasing every year. A set of miniaturized sensors capable of monitoring cancer cells can be seamlessly integrated in WBAN. This allows physicians to diagnose tumors without a biopsy.
Asthma: WBAN can help millions of patients suffering from asthma by monitoring allergenic agents in the air and by providing real-time feedback to the physician. There are GPS-based devices that monitor environmental factors and trigger an alarm in cases where allergens harmful to the patient are present.
Artificial Retina: Retina prosthesis chips can be implanted in the human eye, enabling patients with limited or no vision to see at an adequate level. Existing telemedicine systems use either dedicated wireless channels to transfer information to the remote stations, or power demanding protocols such as Bluetooth, that are open to interference by other devices working in the same frequency band. These characteristics limit prolonged health monitoring. A WBAN can be integrated into a telemedicine system to drive unobtrusive ambulatory health monitoring for a long period of time.
About the author: Bipin Thomas is a renowned global thought-leader on consumer-centric health care transformation.