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Wireless Body Area Networks

wbanWireless networking has become increasingly pervasive throughout our lives with the emergence of new communications technologies and techniques which have had a dramatic effect on the efficacy of the technology. As systems and ideas catch up with the tools available to them, one very interesting area which has been touched by wireless networking is that of the human body and its very immediate surroundings. Such networks are known as WBANs (Wireless Body Area Networks).

As a reasonably intimate application area, WBANs have found their primary usefulness to be in the medical arena. The demographics of the population of the world show it to be ageing fast as the baby boom generation moves up through the years. Around the world, governments and other interested agencies have begun to plan for the inevitable peak in the requirements for the care of the aged population. One potential advantage in dealing with the thorny problem they face is to use technology to leverage the effect of the limited resources they can bring to bear. Clinical areas such as Cancer Detection, Cardiovascular Diseases, Asthma Mitigation and Sleep Disorders can be positively impacted not to mention the broader areas the implants and wearable medical devices can bring to bear. Reaching further out, WBANs can also make a significant difference to the remote control of medical devices via telemedicine systems.

In short, the assistance provided by using WBANs is extremely significant however the adoption of the technology into the specific field has had to overcome some broad and significant challenges. These challenges can be broadly described as Architecture, Power Consumption, Data Rate and Security.

Lets take a look at how WBAN technology can be applied to the UK in the specific field of heart disease. Clearly heart disease is a leading cause of death for a significant percentage of the population. Appropriate and timely monitoring can prove to be a real asset in dealing with this condition and it is in this way that the benefits of WBANs can really be brought to bear. Systems have been developed such that, by the use of non intrusive miniaturised sensors, ambulatory monitoring of the most important metrics can be continued in real time as the patients go about their routines. The ubiquity of high speed mobile data networks in the UK means that, for the most part, this monitoring can continue uninterrupted for as long as is necessary. By carefully monitoring these vital signs, trained medical professionals can interpret the presence of problems, monitor deterioration and if necessary perform interventions.

In order to gain traction and mainstream acceptance in the United Kingdom, certain key issues had to be addressed. A hierarchical model for the architecture of WBANs has been developed such that  the devices are controlled by a central appliance known as a personal server. The model is flexible enough that it can be adapted to more specifically suit its use in specialised places such as a hospital or conversely broader scope areas out in the field.

Devices have had to be developed specifically for use in such an intimate way such that they do not exceed power outputs that are considered harmful to localised regions within the human body. A key measure known as the Specific Absorption Rate must not exceed the limits set out by various legislatures in the regions within which they operate. Institutional approval must be sought for each device that will operate in this specialised area. Furthermore, these specialised appliances, be they sensors or other devices must operate to very stringent limitations on their power consumption.

In order for the system to work within the context of a 21st century professional medical care system the governance framework around which the application is set out must be considerable. Lives can be lost if the system fails so it becomes imperative that systems failure modes and their consequences be carefully managed. Where there is potential for loss of life or serious non fatal consequences, steps must be in place to ensure that systems failure cannot take place.

pavAnother extremely important aspect which must be carefully managed is that of the security of medical WBAN systems. It almost goes without saying that, with systems that intrude into the most intimate areas of the human body that are charged with managing and effecting healthcare decisions, security is one of the most paramount concerns. Conventional network security, whilst strong, is by no means impenetrable. Appropriate systems of management, policy and operation need to run covalently with the key building blocks of security such as authentication, integrity and confidentiality. Complex encryption systems place demands upon processing as well as data rate overhead which serve to pull the design of the equipment away from the miniature. Broadly speaking therefore, a robust system must mesh together and operate flawlessly for the system to meet its mandatory requirements. Such standards require a strong governing entity to overarch the system and maintain its operation. The UK is well placed to provide this governing body and manage standards such as is necessary.

Looking contrastingly at Uzbekistan, where heart disease is a more significant issue, it becomes necessary to consider whether the resources available can ensure the necessary standards are met. It becomes perhaps necessary to rethink whether any of the standards which are necessarily adopted in an idealised situation such as is available in the UK can be relaxed. Standards of governance and their implementation and control require significant budget. Given the contrasting fiscal limitations in play in Uzbekistan one wonders perhaps if such actions and activities are appropriate.

In addition, looking at the figures for the penetration of networked data communication within the country, one also wonders if the infrastructure is in place to support such ambitions. One of the key unique selling points of the technology and its application is the ability for it to continue to operate with near ubiquity. In a country where the telecommunications infrastructure renders this nigh on impossible, it would seem to render the argument in favour of using the technology moot. Looking at both arguments it is therefore probably not a suitable technology for use in countries such as Uzbekistan with insufficient network infrastructure and very limited health budgets, tempting though the technology is.

WBANs present health professionals with unique opportunities to enhance medical care to levels previously unheard of and probably unachievable. With proper and effective management systems in place they represent a fantastic fillip to the broader toolset of medical practitioners. They will undoubtedly play an increasing part in health systems for many years to come.

UK Telehealth is finally coming of age.

According to new a research report, around 2.2 million patients worldwide are using a home monitoring service based on equipment with integrated connectivity at the end of 2011. The figure does not include patients that use monitoring devices connected to a PC or mobile phone. It only includes systems that rely on monitors with integrated connectivity or systems that use monitoring hubs with integrated cellular or fixed-line modems. It is forecast that the number of home monitoring systems with integrated communication capabilities will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.0 percent between 2010 and 2016 reaching 4.9 million connections globally by the end of the forecast period. The number of these devices that have integrated cellular connectivity increased from 0.42 million in 2010 to about 0.57 million in 2011, and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 34.6 percent to 2.47 million in 2016.

Some of the most common conditions being monitored today are chronic diseases including cardiac arrhythmia, sleep apnea, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These conditions cause substantial costs and reduce both life expectancy and quality of life. It is estimated that more than 200 million people in the EU and the US suffer from one or several chronic diseases where home monitoring can become a treatment option. “Home monitoring solutions that can communicate over a cellular network, landline connection or the Internet have already reached significant volumes within cardiac rhythm management, integrated telehealth solutions, sleep therapy and cardiac event monitoring”, says Lars Kurkinen, Telecom Analyst, Berg Insight. He adds that connectivity is gaining momentum in several other segments as well, such as glucose meters and medication adherence systems.

Exploiting connectivity technologies in the UK healthcare industry can lead to decreased costs, more efficient care delivery and improved sustainability of the healthcare system. New care models enabled by these technologies are also often consistent with patients’ preferences of living more healthy, active and independent lives in their own homes. Progress is being made in the adoption of wireless technology among manufacturers of medical monitoring equipment. However, there is still a long way to go before remote monitoring becomes a standard practise in the healthcare sector.

Rustyice Solutions is monitoring this sector very closely and has already made some strategic moves in respect of this field. Keep an eye on this Blog for further announcements coming soon.

Telemedicine speeds care to stroke victims

If ever an endorsement of Telemedicine were needed surely the recent story regarding a 56-year-old woman who was taken into the accident and emergency unit of the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton showing symptoms that she was having a stroke is exactly that.

The on-call stroke consultant was at home and would have had to travel to the Royal Sussex to assess the patient – potentially wasting vital minutes before any action could be taken.

Instead she logged onto the hospital’s pioneering Telemedicine system remotely.

It meant she was able, via a screen at the end of the patient’s bed, to see and talk to the patient and work with the senior nurse to assess her medical condition and suitability for thrombolysis.

Thrombolysis is a specialist treatment that breaks up a blood clot to minimise brain damage caused by a stroke.

The team decided this was the right course of treatment and by the next morning the patient was symptom free.

Four days later she was well enough to go home.

It is the first time staff at the hospital have used the computer and video system to care for a stroke patient.

Hospital chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “Someone having a stroke loses two million neurons a minute.

“By using Telemedicine out of hours, crucial minutes will be saved and brain tissue salvaged.

“This is because assessment will no longer have to wait while the on-call consultant travels to the hospital and treatment can start much sooner.”

Julia Carter, 45, from Hove, whose father was left paralysed by a stroke three years ago, said the technology was a great idea.

She said: “Every second counts when it comes to a stroke so something like this will really help.

“I know from experience how devastating the effects of a stroke can be so anything that can reduce that impact is very important.”

Strokes happen to people of all ages, from babies and young children to adults in their more senior years.

At Rustyice Solutions our innovative Telemedicine Solutions including RPIMS and CTWS provide the tools to access to medical care for consumers and health professionals all across the country via telecommunications technology. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist your organisation exploit this powerful emerging new technology.

A primer on broadband

What is broadband?

Put simply, the term “broadband” refers to a high-speed connection to the Internet. But the answer to the question doesn’t stay simple.

First, there are a number of technologies that can provide this connection. The main ones are DSL over copper phone lines, cable service over coaxial cable, fibre optic cable and wireless signals coming from fixed towers or from satellites. Each of these has its own characteristics involving price, area of coverage and technology constraints.

And second, the definition of what is high-speed is changing regularly. Late in 2010, for example, OFCOM officially raised the speed that it considers broadband, overnight expanding the geographic areas that are considered unserved. It will come as no surprise that dial-up service, still some people’s choice, is not considered broadband service.

How fast is fast enough?

The answer depends on what you want to do. A guide:

Less than 1 megabit per second — Allows you to send email, browse simple websites on the Internet, watch low-quality video on YouTube.

From 1 to 5 megabits per second — Allows browsing of complex web sites, attaching large files to email, streaming music, performing basic telecommuting functions, watching some video.

From 5 to 10 megabits per second — Allows more complex telecommuting, sharing large files, watching high-definition video, playing sophisticated games, participating in basic remote diagnostic medical functions and remote education.

From 10 to 100 megabits — Allows full telemedicine and educational services, telecommuting with high-quality video, using high definition surveillance, playing very complex games.

At least two caveats apply: The speed you get can vary from one time to another and often does not reach the maximum speed your provider advertises as “up to” a certain speed. And very often, available services provide a substantially slower speed for uploading material to the web than the download speed for obtaining material from the web.

Who provides service?

By far most people buy service from either their telephone company or their cable TV company. For the most part, phone companies such as BT provide service over the copper lines they have invested heavily in over decades, and technology has increased the speeds this DSL service can deliver. Likewise, cable companies such as Virgin Media deliver broadband service via the coaxial cable they invested in for TV signals, and here, too, technology has increased speeds.

Fixed wireless providers provide alternatives to the phone and cable companies.

Big national companies offer mobile wireless Internet service via their 3G and 4G (third generation and fourth generation) service.

Some phone companies, typically small independently owned or cooperative operations, have led the way in installing fibre optic cable, which has a number of advantages in the long run. It can be much faster than DSL or cable and more reliable than wireless.

Should Internet service be a private or a public good?

A huge question has arisen over how to pay for investment in the infrastructure, whatever technology it uses.

To this point, this has been a question of the private market. Existing private service companies have spent millions to upgrade and expand their services.

In some places, however, communities have created their own organisations to supply service. There are hybrids as well, that involve partnerships between private providers and local government officials.

Is wireless the answer in remote places?

Some people argue that it is the most cost effective means to provide service where homes and businesses are scattered and where laying fibre is expensive.

Others consider wireless second class because speeds will never match good wired connections and because terrain can wreak havoc in many areas. Satellite service has the limiting characteristic of slight delays that make, for example, video phone connections difficult.

So how can Rustyice Solutions make a difference?

At Rustyice Solutions we have partnered with Mushroom Networks to provide UK and Irish homes and businesses the opportunity to work around this bottleneck today. Our solutions utilise the latest patent pending technology from Mushroom Networks to bundle connections together in an aggregated fashion thereby bringing benefits such as provider diversity and true bandwidth aggregation allowing the creation of cost effective high bandwidth connections with which to enjoy the most demanding of todays network services. Contact us today to discuss how Rustyice Solutions can make a difference.