Medical Monitoring Networks Get Personal: Scientific American

Medical technology makers are now hoping to scale this model down to the personal level by connecting wireless sensors placed on (or even under) a patient’s skin to create “medical body area networks” (MBANs) that provide doctors with real-time info about their patients.An MBAN would help hospitals and healthcare clinics better keep tabs on important health-related information, including a patient’s temperature, pulse, blood glucose level, blood pressure and respiratory function. Each sensor would communicate information about the patient’s body via short-range wireless signals to a small receiver (either handheld or hooked onto a bed or wheelchair) that would use longer-range wireless signals to share that information with the healthcare facility’s centralized computer systems—all without the jumble of wires needed to do this today.

As new sensors are developed, these body area networks might even turn into the human equivalent of General Motors OnStar vehicle maintenance services that drivers use to proactively inform them of the need for maintenance and to call for help when lost or in an accident.

Work in Progress
Before this can happen, a lot of work needs to be done developing low-power wireless sensors (that can operate with tiny batteries) and reserving space on the wireless spectrum to ensure this potentially life-critical data has priority status so it can get where it needs to go reliably and securely.

The technologies needed to make MBANs a reality are still being developed, says David Freeman, general manager of the parameters program at GE Healthcare Monitoring Solutions. GE is one of many businesses and research organizations trying to change this by developing the wireless sensors and infrastructure needed for MBANs. Another is Intelesens, a company based in Northern Ireland that develops wireless monitoring technology that uses Bluetooth to deliver medical data from sensors to a short-range receiver and Wi-Fi to send data over even longer distances. Dublin, Ireland-based Realtime Technologies also makes wearable wireless Bluetooth sensors that could be in used as part of an MBAN.

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