IEEE Standards Projects in the Works for E-health

They address security of biometric data, hearing assessments using smartphones, and 3-D printing of medical products

4 February 2016

There’s been a surge in IEEE standards activities in the health-care field. A new e-health standard was issued to protect biometric data exchanged via smartphones and similar devices. Two draft standards are in the works: one for 3-D–printed prosthetics and medical products, the other for mobile devices that screen for hearing problems. And there’s a new standards-development collaboration between the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and the Regenstrief Institute, a medical research organization in Indianapolis.


Several countries have laws that protect the privacy of their citizens’ medical records. And with the rise of electronic health records and increasing use of smartphones and other mobile devices in health care, that isn’t easy.         

Biometric ID can replace our PINs and passwords with our fingerprints, iris scans, or even DNA. Such biometric data is less likely than passwords to be hacked, but it presents another problem: Compromised fingerprint data, for example, isn’t as easy to replace as are hacked passwords. Protecting that data is the aim of IEEE 2410-2015 Biometric Open Protocol Standard (BOPS).

The BOPS implementation includes software running on a client device (a smartphone or other mobile gadget), a trusted BOPS server (which stores no user information), and an intrusion-detection system. “We also have ways to make sure that your log-in comes from you, not from a fingerprint mold or a photo of your iris,” says IEEE Member Scott Streit, who chairs the IEEE 2410 working group.

Once you’re logged in, the system determines what data you’re allowed to see or alter to meet the differing needs of doctors, nurses, administrators, and others. “We want people with many different backgrounds to work on the same data, but each to see only what they’re allowed to,” adds Streit, who is also chief of digital infrastructure at Hoyos Labs, in New York City, and a professor of computer engineering and computer science at Villanova University, in Philadelphia.

With the growth of mobile health apps and devices using biometrics, BOPS will become more and more important in health care. But its potential uses also extend to finance and other areas that rely on biometric identification.


People who might have impaired hearing are traditionally tested by having them identify a series of tones emitted by a machine in a soundproof booth.

“In a large country, like India, it would take a lot of such facilities to cover the entire population, and trained audiologists and low-cost equipment are scarce,” says IEEE Senior Member Mohan Kumar, a vice president at MegaChips, a fabless semiconductor company in Bangalore. “India and other developing  countries can all benefit from a way to screen for hearing defects out in the field.”

This gap is being filled in some cases by smartphone manufacturers using mobile apps to turn their phones into relatively inexpensive test equipment. Adapting those devices for auditory prescreening is the impetus behind IEEE P2650, “Draft Standard for Enabling Mobile Device Platforms to Be Used as Pre-Screening Audiometric Systems.” Kumar heads the working group for the draft standard. Among the things it will cover, he says, are mobile technologies, sound-isolating headphones, application software, test signals, and the screening of newborns.

“If we don’t uncover hearing deficiencies in the first six months after birth, they typically turn into lifelong problems, impacting cognitive development and quality of life,” he says.

The draft standard’s potential goes beyond detecting hearing defects. A phone that stores the details of its owner’s hearing problems could easily be turned into a basic hearing aid. (Some apps already can turn a phone into a hearing aid; a standard would make them easier to evaluate.) The U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which is in charge of making recommendations for innovations in hearing aids, has shown interest in the P2650 project.


The medical field has many uses for 3-D technology, including visualizing internal body structures and printing prosthetics, implants, and other custom parts. Most of that technology, however, is based on proprietary, incompatible standards. The working group for IEEE P3333.2.5, “Draft Standard for Bio-CAD File Format for Medical Three-Dimensional (3-D) Printing,” wants to break down those barriers.

The standard will define an optimized CAD file format for medical 3-D printing, based on two-dimensional as well as three-dimensional data. As a result, “medical doctors and equipment companies, even small ones, will be able to make uniformly accurate models from medical data and transfer the data from hospital to hospital or to equipment companies while ensuring security and patient privacy,” says Dr. Young Lae Moon, an IEEE-SA member who chairs the IEEE-SA development working group for 3-D–based medical applications.

Because the standard helps ensure 3-D printing accuracy, patient-specific models can be made for implants and prostheses. And the models can also show surgeons the location of nerves and major arteries before they operate. Models and simulations also can teach surgeons how to avoid dangerous procedures.

“If you make a mistake on a model, nothing happens except that you learn from the mistake,” says Moon, a professor of orthopedics at the medical school of Chosun University Hospital in Gwangju, Korea.


Devices and systems communicate with one another but, of course, they also communicate with people. To that end, IEEE-SA has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Regenstrief Institute to develop common standards for representing the data coming from many sources and to help clinicians turn it into actionable, patient-specific knowledge. Regenstrief is an informatics and health-care research organization specializing in electronic medical records systems and data integration. The institute houses the database for the LOINC (Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes), a set of universal identifiers for tests, measurements, and observations.

IEEE and Regenstrief are partnering with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology to make the standards available to device manufacturers and health-care organizations. Incorporating the standards could enable clinicians to leverage integrated data for patient care, preventive medicine, clinical research, and other purposes.


Improving interoperability between devices, systems, and the people who use them becomes ever more critical as those devices and systems proliferate.

“According to the West Health Institute, every year health-care institutions lose US $30 billion due to interoperability problems—money spent to integrate data from different vendors in a facility by adjusting the IT systems and even entering data manually,” says Bill Ash, strategic technology program director with IEEE-SA. Such problems also increase the chances for errors. Widely accepted standards can drastically reduce them.

Standards will aid health care in additional ways, says Kathryn Bennett, a senior program manager at IEEE-SA. “With standards that enable patients to gather their own physiological information from mobile devices and send it to a physician quickly and securely, patients will be able to recover at home instead of prolonging their hospital stays for monitoring,” Bennett explains. “And standards for sound electronic health records will further drive interoperability while making records safe, private, and error-free.”

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