Before Wearables Can Be Used for Health Care Monitoring, These Issues Must Be Addressed

IEEE is working on interoperability, data security, and other concerns

24 May 2018

New types of wearables are moving from wellness and fitness applications to monitoring medical conditions. They include socks with temperature sensors that help people with diabetes avoid amputations because of foot ulcers; contact lenses with a sensor made of graphene able to check glucose levels in tears; and compression shirts with biosensors that track heart rate. Data from the medical wearables can be shared with health care providers via a mobile app.

Called the Internet of Medical Things, the system of connected devices is expected to improve health care while reducing costs. But before wearables can be used to reliably diagnose, treat, and manage medical conditions, a number of issues must be resolved. The wearables must be interoperable, for example, and they must offer privacy, security, and accuracy.

Since last year, the IEEE Standards Association and the IEEE Sensors Council have sponsored Wearables and Medical Interoperability IoT Workshops to address such concerns. Each one- or two-day WAMII event brings together a variety of stakeholders such as health care professionals, database and software providers, government regulators, and researchers. The most recent workshop was held on 25 and 26 April at Johns Hopkins University in Rockville, Md.

One who attended was Cherry Tom, IEEE Standards Association’s emerging technologies intelligence manager, in Piscataway, N.J. The Institute asked her about topics discussed at the workshop.

What are the concerns about medical wearables?

Integrating sensors and wireless communications poses problems. We’re trying to have everyone look at the interoperability of their applications. It’s a challenge to capture the data, integrate the data with other systems, and make sure the key aspects are captured in a reliable, secure, and private way.

How will the patient’s privacy be protected?

The IEEE Digital Inclusion Through Trust and Agency Industry Connections program is looking at secure ways of identifying people online. One way is through a universal digital identification system. It might use blockchain technology to create legal, digital identifications that won’t rely on birth certificates or other legal documents.

RELATED: How Blockchain Could Give Everyone a Legal ID

What is being done to ensure the data from medical wearables is accurate?

One way is conformity assessments, which determine if a product or service conforms to standards. Such assessments are being done by manufacturers, their customers, regulatory authorities, or independent third parties. The IEEE Conformity Assessment Program offers its services to determine if products meet IEEE standards. Working with independent test labs, product manufacturers, and test equipment manufacturers, IEEE will develop the requirements for testing. Should the product pass the test, IEEE will provide certification.

Assessing the quality of sensors is also critical, because so many companies make them. The IEEE 2510 standard project is working to establish quality metrics of data from sensors used for the Internet of Things.

WAMII’s April agenda had an item on wireless test beds. What are those?

One application of a test bed is to enable manufacturers to check their devices’ interoperability with those from other companies. Wireless medical devices may not be interoperable whether or not they use the same protocols. The test bed effort for WAMII is being led by IEEE Senior Member Gerard Hayes, president and CEO of the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina, a certified test lab for cellular devices, in Wake Forest.

Why is IEEE involved with medical wearables?

The organization has been involved with the development of medical device communications standards for a number of years and has new standards projects for medical data sponsored by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE is also focused on the quality of sensors, capturing the information, transmitting it accurately conditioned on privacy and security, and ensuring the coexistence of different protocols in the wireless spectrum. Wearables is a new application extending IEEE’s interest in the health care industry while making use of existing work and expertise from several of its societies, especially for the Internet of Things.

What is new is the incorporation of electronics into fabrics and clothing, so-called smart fabrics and smart clothing. It presents an opportunity for IEEE to provide guidance in key aspects of electronic integration for other organizations that are integrating sensors and other electronics into fabrics and textiles. One step in that direction is 3D body processing, an area where IEEE is working with many retailers.

For more information, contact Cherry Tom.

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