Wireless is beginning to play a pivotal role in healthcare, particularly telemedicine and intelligent patient monitoring. The integration of 5G and the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX) promises to make healthcare cheaper and better in a wide variety of ways. In some ways, these technologies have already improved the overall picture. However, many of the benefits are still stuck in the waiting room.
Why the focus on healthcare? Because the healthcare industry lives on data. The more one knows about anything from medication effects, and side effects, to data on treatments for the myriad cancers, the better the outcome will be.
One of the major issues with healthcare is the FDA. With the IoX, 5G, the edge, the cloud, Wi-Fi, etc. anybody can design a wireless device to do whatever they want as long as it meets FCC spectrum guidelines. However, healthcare devices and technology have to climb a mountain of impediments before it is approved by the FDA. To get medical approval, devices must meet a slew of requirements. Add RF to that and it gets even messier.
Some have already been accepted for wireless. However, most of those devices were already medically approved (pacemakers, insulin pumps) so adding RF reporting capabilities and interconnect was much easier. However, starting from scratch is a much bigger challenge.
In one example, researchers at Tufts University are developing bandages using flexible electronics, these smart bandages not only monitor the conditions of chronic skin wounds, but they also use a microprocessor to analyze that information to electronically deliver the right drugs to promote healing.
It does this by tracking certain metrics. The current experiment is monitoring the temperature and pH of chronic skin wounds. The idea is to impregnate the bandage with specific medicines and deliver them to the wound, based on the wound data the smart bandage analyzes. The current experiment is focused on antibiotics but other compounds can be used.
At present, the devices are local. However, their potential to connect, wirelessly, to the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX) is being given top priority, because of the implications of data collection and remote monitoring. Such a connection can be used to monitor the injury’s response to treatment by medical professionals. If necessary, the wireless connection can be used to modify the devices delivery conditions or notify the patient that they need to seek medical assistance. As well, data collected can be a real-time chart of wound healing and the efficacy of various treatments.
This is simply one of many such applications under consideration or development. However, smart medicine has a bit of a negative side. While smart bandages promise advanced treatment for chronic conditions, smart AI digital assistants – such as Alexa, Siri and Google — are causing concern because they are not smart enough to be medically competent.
Unfortunately, people are using them to seek medical advice. It turns out that such advice or the answer is often inadequate or even, outright, dangerous because their advice generally comes from the Internet. The risk here is that there is no control over whether the answers come from medically competent sources or peddlers of pseudoscience and black magic. Furthermore, such devices generally offer only a single solution and it has no idea of the peripheral or pre-existing conditions (such as allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure, renal function, cholesterol, etc. that can affect treatments).
What is kind of, funny, in a weird sort of way, is that many of the answers come with disclaimers such as “for entertainment purposes only, or this is only an opinion, or answers not considered medically competent.” Still, studies show that people continue to ask and follow such advice.
From an interview with one doctor around this topic, he responded with, “These answers all sound like they just extract information from Wikipedia (which contains a lot of incorrect information) using very simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ algorithms. Based on my judgment, these are all bad responses.”
It would seem obvious that looking to digital assistants, for anything other than how many aspirins one can take at a time, is not too bright. One can say the same thing about the internet, however there, at least, one has a plethora of offerings to look at.
Unfortunately, it will be a while before the fog that surrounds these new innovations, and how wireless will play within them, lifts. First, because, as we all are aware, clinical trials and various other speed bumps can delay such devices from becoming practical and available for some time.
Second, there is not a large wheelhouse of information around how to handle the rapid evolution of next-generation, complex, medical devices and wireless integration.
Thus, the interest in the IoX as the platform for such medical advancement gives it legs. As the IoX evolves, it is seen as becoming the medium to raise the bar on new and innovative healthcare.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, Lucent Technologies, , Qwest, City and County of Denver, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner. He is a senior/life member of the IEEE, the Press Liaison for the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and a member of the IEEE Communications Society, IEEE MTT Society, IEEE Vehicular Technology Society and the IEEE 5G Community. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio.