The first healthcare application involving a wireless standard called Near Field Communication (NFC) has been developed. The technology has potential in applications in which direct confirmation of an event is needed.
Phillips Medical Systems (Andover, MA) and Cambridge Consultants (Boston) have designed a system employing NFC to integrate glucometers and insulin pumps. It purports to streamline treatment by wirelessly linking the glucometer and the pump. The glucometer records the blood sugar reading and then suggests an insulin dosage. If patients accept the dose, they swipe the glucometer against the insulin pump, which could be located beneath clothing, and the drug is delivered. This enhances patients' confidence and security, and allows them to modify dosage calculations for life-style reasons.
“Proximity is the key difference with NFC, compared with other standards such as Bluetooth,” says Richard Traherne, head of the Cambridge Consultants wireless business unit. “NFC is optimal when you need to have two devices very close together to communicate. It has a place in RFID, but this has the ability to communicate more data and can ensure safe usage in each direction. It's an additional step of security from what we see today.” Because the system is designed to work with two or more devices positioned closely together, the chances of interference are much lower than for other systems, he explains.
Potential benefits include simpler user interaction, better dosing accuracy, better data logging for compliance monitoring, and improved patient comfort, since they may be able to wear or use the devices with more discretion than before.
Phillips was one of the major players in developing the NFC standard. The company enlisted Cambridge Consultants, which has extensive experience with RFID, to help develop a healthcare application for it.
“Diabetes came up because it is a large market, and for NFC to take off, it will have to get a foothold in large markets,” says Andrew Diston, head of Cambridge Consultants' global healthcare business unit. “Measuring and injecting insulin is moving rapidly toward closed-loop systems. This is only a slight paradigm shift for that field.”
The system is about a year away from clinical trials, says Traherne. Future NFC healthcare applications, he says, could include pain relief, asthma and respiratory care, and congestive heart failure treatments.