Wireless under the skin!
By Farhad Mafie, Guest Editorial, Wireless Design and Development
From implanting a passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
microtransponder under the skin to implanting an active drug-delivery system
in human bodies, various types of wireless technologies are being used or
being implemented in new products to further improve some of the ongoing
challenges within the healthcare industry –that eventually would result in
overall better patient care.
For example, new wireless-enabled implantable devices are being developed to
help the patient with their tedious ritual of regular drug injections (with
obvious benefits for diabetics) and also provide a sophisticated delivery
method for many other types of drugs. Preprogrammed microprocessors using
wireless interface would be controlling the release of any combination of
drugs to a patient’s body on a regular basis or when the patient’s medical
conditions requires it. Emerging sensor technologies are also being
integrated into these wireless-enabled implantable devices to provide both
monitoring as well as the triggering drug releases whenever is required.
Another example is the RFID technology that is gradually being used to
address many issues such as patient identification, the confusing and
unclear written medical prescriptions and orders, medical information
access, materials management and control in hospitals and clinics, and much,
much more. These active and passive RFID devices allow the healthcare
industry to gradually provide accurate exchange of information between the
patient and healthcare providers and eliminating today’s confusing and
inaccurate written orders and interactions. The speed of obtaining medical
information in a matter of seconds, the universally acknowledged RFID
format’s superb quality, its small size and flexible packaging options, and
finally its reasonable cost of development, manufacturing, and utilization
has made RFID technology even more attractive to the healthcare sector.
Today, the passive RFID tags are gradually replacing standard wristbands,
and hospitals are moving away from barcodes and printed labels for patient
identification and information. To assure authenticity and assist in
accurate dispensing of medication or blood to patients, the labeling scheme
for medication containers and blood bags are gradually migrating from
written labels or barcodes to passive reliable RFID tags. Your future
wireless-enabled medicine cabinet at home would be communicating with all
your medication containers, gathering the usage information, dates, etc.,
and automatically communicating this information with your doctor, local
pharmacy, as well as your insurance company. Old or recalled medication
could be identified very easily in people’s houses, and warning messages
could be sent to them via their cell phone, personal email, or even a simple
call from your healthcare provider.
Patients with cognitive disabilities, active chronic diseases, etc, are
benefiting from FDA-approved passive implantable RFID microtransponders.
During emergencies, when a disoriented or unconscious patient can not
communicate even their most basic information, these implantable passive
tags could play an important role in saving the patient’s life by providing
vital information to the emergency personnel.
As always, there is a valid concern regarding who else would be accessing
these private information by simply “sniffing” the air for a radio frequency
signal? To address this issue, no personal or medical information is stored
on these passive tags. Only a unique sixteen digit number is stored for
identification. Advanced encryption technologies could be added to provide
even more protection for the stored patient ID number.
As the semiconductor industry moves from 90 nm to 65 nm and beyond, new
complex System-on-Chip (SoC) devices with many new functionalities and
built-in sensors would find their space in many healthcare-related
applications. In the Savant 4th International System-on-Chip (SoC)
Conference and Exhibit on November 1 and 2, 2006, we will be discussing all
the SoC-related leading edge technologies, CPUs & DSPs, Multi-Cores, EDA
tools, IPs, as well as semiconductor challenges with industry and academic
Finally, I guess in the near future, as we develop and use more and more
wireless-enabled implantable ICs, the term “A Chip on Your Shoulders” would
have a different connotation for all of us!