Studies of Netherland seniors over the last 10 years indicate that up to 50 percent of seniors are interested in smart-home applications to aid in health, first responders’ reaction times and security improvement.
As it was mentioned before, WBAN technology was at first focused on medical applications. Of course currently it’s not limited to this field, but I will start with showing why I think that it has a great future and there is a market emerging for such a kind of solution. Most of information included in this post can be found in a document by Dr. Russ Ricci, created for IBM’s Healthcare Services. It’s available under this link: http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/836543/wireless_communications_trends_health_care.pdf
According to Russ Ricci the modern medicine is to be influenced by many forces that will result in great changes in next 10 years. The main change will be that the modern technologies will not only help doctors to treat illnesses, but also will allow a constant monitoring of people that are not even ill at the moment. That will in effect be a rise of a practice called “biognosis”. Biognosis is a word meaning “life knowledge” and is used by Dr. Ricci to describe a combination of both diagnosis of disease and medical prevention. This will be realized be use of sophisticated monitoring devices that are exactly a focus of WBAN technology.
Specification of this standard is just a first step of creating a national bank of medical information about people’s health, which will be feed online and analyzed in real time.
It is becoming even more important as eastern societies median age is growing each year. With longer life expectancy (median age of American increased from 32.9 years in 1990 to 35.3 years in 2000, according to Census 2000) and better availability of medical treatment, medicine is a very important part of market. It is predicted that in 2012 global market of medical devices will exceed 70 Billion dollars. It will probably grow even higher in the following years, as a cost of just heart failures in US is 37B$ per year – if we can use a technology to prevent different illnesses, the spending on technology will fund itself.
It is important that in this application WBAN will create a base for development of other standards. Specifically mentioned by Dr. Ricci standards of clinical information systems, which will be used to keep the data gathered during monitoring. It is predicted that it will take next 10 years and that it will occur in three distinct phases.
In next four years a first stage will take place. It will be Activation stage, when different companies will start to develop such systems and try to meet requirements of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It will be forced by employer groups as well as by consumer’s requirements.
Next stage of Standardization will take next 4-7 years. It will force suppliers to comply with the standard and unify to some extent their implementations.
Last stage of Convergence that should occur in 10 years from now will result in a unified solution for individual biognosis with monitoring/clinical centers and care delivery.
If we assume that this summary is correct, we see that WBAN standard is on the edge of being on time- it should have already some good ground on the market or at least some industry support before the beginning of Standardization process, if it is supposed to play important part in this solution.
Also we can see that (information from ZigBee Alliance document: http://www.zigbee.org/imwp/download.asp?ContentID=15585), number of wireless nodes deployed in medical solution is growing faster each year:
At the moment the numbers may not be shocking, but concerning the trend to rapid growth this summary shows that medical application itself is worth billions, thus making WBAN standard very crucial for near and far future.
WBAN in medical application – use cases
Market plans developed by ZigBee Alliance take into consideration several use cases for medical applications:
– Chronic Disease Monitoring
As the costs of treating diseases in US contribute to around 75% of total health care costs, it is the most important use case of all mentioned. Chronic disease are a wide range of illnesses: heart diseases, diabetes, asthma and many more. In most cases these diseases require constant long term monitoring, to assure proper level of treatment and correct diagnosis
– Episodic Patient Monitoring
This use case focuses on periodical testing of patient’s health status in order to keep a long term data on his/hers health state. It helps doctors to determine trends in patient’s EKG, blood pressure etc. Information gathered in this use case is sent to the remote data center, and kept there for further reference.
– Patients Alarm Monitoring
Monitoring equipment in this category targets constant monitoring in case of medical emergency (heart attack etc). Data can be processed in two ways- locally or remotely. In case of local processing, the data is checked for sings of emergency and if such occurs the alarm signal is sent to the response center.
– Elderly people monitoring
This type of monitoring apart from normal vital signals checking also can record other data helping to determine wellbeing of old person. It can information on a current place where a patient is, or a distress signal in case of need of assistance. Such information could be accessed (with permission) by the members of family remotely.
Such monitoring is done in a configuration consisting of two closed loops – one inner home loop, and second one outer loop which consist of professional medical care out of home.