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October 25, 2016
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Keeping Track of... Us?

One of the legacies of my time working in technical indexing is the occasional piece of e-mail from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE). Amongst other things, the IEEE is responsible for a number of international standards for electronic, electrical, and wireless communications. While most of these standards were not useful additions to our abstracts database, there are many which formed (and still form) an important part of our everyday lives for example, the 802.3 Ethernet protocol which connects our high-speed Internet modems to our home routers, and the 802.11 Wireless Ethernet protocols which we use every time we go online at a Starbucks, Panera Bread, or other Wi-Fi hotspot.


I've recently received an invitation to join the working group for developing the IEEE P1451.1 and P1451.1.4 standards "for a Smart Transducer Interface for Sensors, Actuators, and Devices".


This is "interesting" in a number of ways not least of which is my lack of education in electrical and electronic engineering, and my very limited knowledge of radio communication. The standard, which will use eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), is supposed to be used for keeping track of, and controlling, things like inventoried office equipment, cargo containers, and smartphones; providing geographical and geospacial information to the military; and "remote health sensoring and monitoring".


It's this last bit that has me intrigued or rather, the indication that working group membership would be of interest to users and manufacturers of medical devices. Let's face it: almost every American uses at least one medical device (the bathroom scale) on a regular basis, and those of us who are members of dLife regularly use at least one additional device (glucometer), if not more (insulin pump, CGM, blood pressure monitor, etc.) Connected bathroom scales have been available to healthcare providers for a while, even if their availability to consumers has been limited to the fancy, expensive models with extensive (and largely inaccurate or superfluous) feature sets. Many of us also have upload cables for our diabetes devices, and some of us can also upload our blood pressure readings.


In a perfect world, we should be able to keep track of, upload from, and (if needed) control all of our devices from a single interface, and integrate their readings into a multiparametric data set. While manufacturer "exclusivity" plays against this, the "insulin pump hacking proof-of-concept" shows that there are security concerns that this standard must address.


Other issues I might perceive in using this standard for "outpatient" or "home" medical devices include both dose management and geolocation. Consider a centrally-controlled insulin pump with geolocation, a hypervigilant Accountable Care Organization, and the neighborhood ice cream shop. I can just see the software automatically bousing the pump for several units while emitting a loud siren warning, "Diabetic! Diabetic! Do not feed!!!" while the CGM is reading 60 with a double-down arrow...


Everything said, while I find the concept and foreseeable intended applications fascinating, I feel I don't have the expertise to contribute to the working group. I expect that like the Force, this technology will have both a dark and a light side.


I just hope it doesn't turn out to be our version of Orwell's Big Brother.

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