Wireless under the skin!
By Farhad Mafie, Guest Editorial, Wireless Design and Development Magazine
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 experts.
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!