Remote monitoring potential of ultrawideband for hospitals too large to ignore

Ultrawideband technology may not be new, but a new study out of Oregon State University indicates that it could be the secret to advanced remote patient monitoring. And as care moves from inpatient to outpatient settings--and ultimately to the home environment--such innovation could mean quicker patient discharges and more preventive care, a keystone in accountable care organizations.

Ultrawideband works by sending super-fast bursts of signal over large swaths of radio spectrum. It only transmits over short distances, but doesn't interfere with other frequencies, and can coexist with other technologies like Bluetooth and Zigbee (a big concern in increasingly tech-crowded hospitals). The technology has been around for more than a decade, but never really found its place outside of military radar implementations. Big IT players like Intel have pursued UWB products, but never brought them to fruition.

Now, though, Oregon State researchers say that UWB may have found its place in remote, or personal health monitoring. The reason: It can transmit enormous amounts of data in micro-seconds, but uses very little energy. In fact, the sensors that OSU researchers envision could be powered with the patient's body heat. Their vision is of a net of tiny wireless sensors, possibly embedded in Band-Aid-sized patches, that can be placed on the human body to monitor vital signs--everything from heart rate to bone density. The effect would be a "wireless body area network" transmitting data from the sensors to a nearby receiver, such as a laptop or smartphone.

"The sensor might provide and transmit data on some important things, like heart health, bone density, blood pressure or insulin status," Patrick Chiang, professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science tells "Ideally, you could not only monitor health issues, but also help prevent problems before they happen. Maybe detect arrhythmias, for instance, and anticipate heart attacks. And it needs to be non-invasive, cheap and able to provide huge amounts of data."

One thing that may give UWB a leg up on other wireless options is that, unlike many technologies in mHealth, its core process is well established, and has had the OK of the FCC since 2002. Still, it does have a couple of challenges for healthcare use. For example, most UWB transmissions require a line-of-sight between the devices. The OSU study indicates this might be something they can get around.

Also, most of the researchers' findings thus far are theoretical. They estimate commercialization will take at least five years. (Translation: It might be a while before we see true widespread use of such technology.)

That said, such an opportunity seems too golden--from both a patient care and a bottom line perspective--to pass up. Hospital technology executives, wouldn't you agree? - Sara