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EETE MAR 2017

NEWS & TECHNOLOGY SPONSORED ARTICLE How Wearable Health Technology is Changing the Face of Healthcare Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics The miniaturization of biomedical sensors, the proliferation of smartphones and the rise of power efficient wireless protocols has started a generation of wearable medical devices which stand to change the face of healthcare. These medical wearables go way beyond fitness trackers. They’re not just counting steps or tracking heart rates, but monitoring glucose levels and blood pressure, managing chronic pain, or even delivering medication. At the heart of this revolution in healthcare are wireless technologies which have arisen with the proliferation of the smartphone. Bluetooth and NFC are the wireless protocols driving this new generation of wearable medical devices. The Wearable Revolution Healthcare has traditionally been practiced in hospitals and private clinics, requiring patients to travel significant distances and delaying treatment. Wearable health technology promises to flip that on its head by enabling “telemedicine” - the administration of healthcare beyond clinical settings, to reach patients whether they’re at home, at work, or on the go. Telemedicine enabled by wearable medical technology has the potential to improve both inpatient and outpatient care. For instance, wearables have the potential to allow hospitals to focus resources on urgent care, as less serious ailments can be diagnosed, and in some cases even treated, remotely with the help of wearable medical devices. Wearable health monitors can also let patients with more serious ailments shorten their hospital stays and go home earlier while staying monitored around the clock, thus freeing up beds and staff for other patients. Wearable medical devices can help chronic disease sufferers manage and monitor their condition, and easily share their health information with their physician. Wearable medical devices can also provide convenient and economic access to healthcare services to poor, underserved communities, the disabled, and the mobility challenged. Beyond improving the lives of those with diagnosed diseases, wearables can be used for preventative medicine. The next generation of fitness and health trackers may not just monitor your physical activity, but signs of impending illness to help you fend off serious health issues before they occur. Smarter Healthcare with Bluetooth Low Energy The most important wireless protocol for medical wearables to have today is indisputably Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth Low Energy. Despite its name, Bluetooth Smart is quite different from regular Bluetooth. Whereas Bluetooth classic was designed to stream data to and from peripherals such as headphones, microphones or keyboards, Bluetooth Smart was designed to be an extremely power-efficient protocol for transmitting short bursts of data from battery powered devices used in metering, monitoring, and sensing applications. That makes it the perfect wireless protocol for wearable medical devices. Bluetooth Smart uses a different physical and link layer than Bluetooth Classic, but as part of the Bluetooth standard, all smartphones compatible with Bluetooth 4.0 and up are also compatible with Bluetooth Smart. Bluetooth Smart also allows medical wearables to take advantage of the cellular connectivity, GPS location awareness, and powerful processing capabilities of a smartphone to supplement the device’s own capabilities. A wearable health monitor can, for instance, share sensor data with a smartphone over Bluetooth Smart. The user can then open up the device’s healthcare app and view his vital signs. The user’s raw health data could also be cross checked against an online database to alert them of signs they are at risk of preventable diseases. That same data could be easily shared with caregivers or loved ones. As a wireless protocol, Bluetooth Smart has been designed to be optimized for the short, bursty messages characteristic of IoT and wearable devices. Connections can be opened and closed extremely quickly, and message transmission times are short. While Bluetooth Classic connections take hundreds of milliseconds or more, Bluetooth Smart devices can establish a connection, transmit a message, and close the connection in tens of milliseconds. This fast messaging doesn’t just make for responsive devices, but also helps Bluetooth Smart minimize power consumption by maximizing the time the radio is turned off. Combined with a peak transmit power of about 15mA, this allows extremely efficient power usage, and there are Bluetooth Smart devices which can last months or even years off coin cell batteries. Figure 1: The Bluetooth Smart Stack 6 Electronic Engineering Times Europe March 2017 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE MAR 2017
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