Personalization has always been in vogue as a marketing ploy to promote everything from monogrammed clothes and jewelry to customized laptops and cell phones with special ring tones. Today, this trend is appearing in the health care industry as a strategy to encourage proactive health management. With Wii Fit and other game consoles that administer fitness training, iPhone apps that track caloric intake, and even PDA-like devices that rate products using genome computing analysis, users have a variety of options for personalizing their health care.


Providing an interconnected personal telehealth system wherein physicians can remotely prescribe treatments and patients can monitor their health status requires accurate, reliable information communicated via interoperable devices. This emerging priority represents the objective of the Continua Health Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of health care and technology companies collaborating to improve the quality of personal health care.


“Interoperability is crucial to spur the widespread adoption of connected personal health solutions, and thus it is at the core of Continua Health Alliance’s mission to build a framework for developing, testing, and implementing interoperable, connected health devices,” stated Rick Cnossen, Continua’s president and chair of the board of directors, during a recent Q&A.


Last year Continua released its Version One Design Guidelines for device manufacturers, test labs, and other companies involved in the Continua Certification process, and at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) demonstrated the first end-to-end connected health solution based on the Continua architecture. In the demonstration, data from a Continua Certified Bluetooth-enabled Nonin Medical wireless pulse oximeter (shown here) was sent to a PC manager running the Vignet Connected Health Services platform using the Continua device interface standard, then uploaded to an IBM server using the Continua WAN interface standard.




The group is currently developing the next generation of guidelines, which will include two low-power radio standards: Bluetooth low-energy wireless technology and ZigBee Health Care technology.


Intel was one of the founding companies of Continua and is active in the organization today, providing resources to working groups and collaborating with other member companies to establish an ecosystem of interoperable personal health systems, says Cnossen, who in addition to his role at Continua serves as director of Personal Health Enabling in Intel’s Digital Health Group.


Eurotech, an Associate member of Intel Embedded Alliance, also participates in the organization, working with Intel and other companies to provide products that support connectivity standards such as Bluetooth and USB, says Eurotech project manager Haritha Treadway.


“Being active in the Continua Health Alliance helps Eurotech be a contributing partner in meeting the interoperability requirements of nascent remote patient monitoring and other medical applications,” Treadway says.


When developing products for medical deployments, Eurotech uses standardized form factors such as COM Express, EPIC, and PC/104-Plus with support for high-speed communication interfaces like PCI Express and Gigabit Ethernet, Treadway says.


“Plug-and-play is a key aspect to solving the challenges of medical device interoperability with the need to support a range of standards and I/O options,” she says.


Offering an assortment of I/O and connectivity choices, Eurotech’s Helios edge controller platform with the Intel Atom Z5xx processor has been used to gather and transmit information from medical devices in a patient’s home. Through collaboration with Intel’s design and simulation teams, Eurotech develops its platforms using processes to ensure robust design with reliable signal integrity, EMI, and thermal performance, helping OEMs achieve FDA certification, Treadway asserts. The Intel Architecture aids in this process by providing solutions such as Intel Hyper-Threading Technology for increasing performance without sacrificing power consumption and Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel VT) for enabling multiple OSs and peripheral code to run in parallel, she adds.


Medical device manufacturers can incorporate multiple systems with Windows, Linux, or other OSs securely segregated from real-time systems using the LynxSecure real-time hypervisor and separation kernel from LynuxWorks, an Affiliate member of Intel Embedded Alliance.


“The use of today’s modern Intel processors with LynxSecure, which is optimized for Intel virtualization, provides our customers with unparalleled performance for multicore, multi-OS, multi-application medical systems,” says LynuxWorks director of business development George Brooks.


LynuxWorks’ family of OSs are built for safety-critical reliability and based on open-standard interfaces, with certified POSIX conformance allowing UNIX or Linux applications to run without change, Brooks says. These OSs have been used in high-end imaging, life support, and bedside patient monitoring applications, including a recent proof-of-concept platform that connected more than 25 wireless biometric sensors using a Portwell Mini-ITX board with Intel VT and LynxSecure to isolate the Bluetooth networking stack from other system software.


In addition to Mini-ITX boards, Intel Embedded Alliance Associate member Portwell offers other Intel-based products for medical applications, such as the NANO-8050 with support for Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT), enabling customers to remotely monitor units in the field, says Jack Lam, American Portwell Technology’s senior product marketing manager. Because these units are often used to diagnose and treat patients, system downtime not only represents lost revenue, but also risk to patients. Intel AMT provides easy troubleshooting over a network, thus shortening the time it takes to recover the system, he says.


These medical systems must be built with long life support and the ability to work with other equipment in the field, Lam says.


“Adapting new technology is just half of the equation,” he remarks. “Keeping it simple and designing it with common form factors and connectors to work with legacy units is the other half of the solution.”


The Continua Health Alliance is striving to make this process easier for companies by reducing the complexity of standards and providing events, training, and a rigorous certification program, Cnossen says.


“Companies are transitioning their products to target the broad, international, standards-based market and leveraging the tools and resources Continua has to offer to minimize effort and ensure high quality,” he says.


Better, cheaper, easier – these are the words you want to describe the equipment used to manage your health. Any other ideas for ways to improve medical device reliability and interoperability?


Jennifer Hesse

OpenSystems Media®, by special arrangement with Intel® Embedded Alliance