The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming to a body near you. In fact, Medical and Personal Body Area Networks (BANs) are networked “wearable” medical devices with globally standardized network interfaces. BANs are becoming commonplace, particularly in healthcare settings. Medical device manufacturers are actively shipping products, with thousands more under development.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has developed network interface standards for wearable devices with biomedical sensors for health monitoring. The standards are named “IEEE 802.15.6 802.15.6-2012 – IEEE Standard for Local and metropolitan area networks – Part 15.6: Wireless Body Area Networks”. They are developed by the 802.15 WG – Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) Working Group.
Medical Body Area Networks (BANs) are quickly moving from design labs to hospitals and homes. Networked medical devices have been used for years for critical care, convalescent care, and emergency care. But these new IEEE standards offer the potential for great improvement in the delivery and monitoring of personalized healthcare in remote settings. They will be used to monitor elderly or chronically ill patients. They can also be used to track the performance of athletes. Many people have used a FitBit(R) or an Apple Watch (R), which have sensors to monitor heart rate, steps taken, and other body measures. What consumer devices like FitBit(R) or an Apple Watch(R) do not currently cover is most kinds of biochemical and physiological phenomena of interest to physicians or high-performance athlete monitoring. In the future these consumer devices may have additional medical sensors that implement the IEEE 802.15 BAN standards and be joined into BANs.
Most people have heard about wearable computers, but don’t realize how pervasive they will soon become commonplace in outpatient settings at home and medical use, with real-time connections to doctors’ offices and hospitals.
What do the standards specify? How do they work?
This standard specifies BAN devices as short-range, wireless communications devices in the vicinity of, or inside, a human body (but not limited to humans). They use existing industrial scientific medical (ISM) bands as well as frequency bands approved by national medical and/or regulatory authorities. They specify support for quality of service (QoS), extremely low power, and data rates up to 10 Mbps (required), while simultaneously complying with strict non-interference guidelines where needed. This standard considers effects on portable antennas due to the presence of a person (varying with male, female, skinny, heavy, etc.), radiation pattern shaping to minimize the specific absorption rate (SAR) into the body, and changes in characteristics as a result of the user motions. As with any networked personal device, a crucial aspect of these devices is personal information security, and these IEEE standards include specifications to secure sensitive personal information from hackers.
Interested readers can download a PDF of this standard, which is available at no cost at https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/browse/standards/get-program/page compliments of the IEEE GET program.