The Use of Body Area Networks and Radio Frequency Identification in Healthcare

The Use of Body Area Networks and Radio Frequency Identification in Healthcare

Peter J. Hawrylak (The University of Tulsa, USA) and John Hale (The University of Tulsa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch621

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Wireless sensor networks have been applied to monitor many phenomena. They were originally designed for monitoring natural phenomena over large geographic areas, such as the SOund SUrveillance System (SOSUS) network for ocean monitoring (Chee-Yee & Kumar, 2003); monitoring of ecological conditions (Szewczyk, Osterweil, Polastre, Hamilton, Mainwaring, & Estrin, 2004); non-invasive wildlife monitoring (Zhao & Guibas, 2004); and for monitoring traffic conditions (Hsieh, 2004). Technological improvements have enabled the creation of small low-power sensor nodes that can be placed on or in the body to monitor medical conditions. Such sensor networks are referred to as body area networks (BANs). Figure 1 illustrates a BAN that collects data from a person and their scale. These data are sent to a health information exchange or database. One example application is for the patient to use this information to help manage their diabetes.

Figure 1.

Example BAN to collect data about a patient for disease management


This article will provide an overview of BANs and explain the design requirements for their successful deployment. The BAN provides the ability to locally monitor the patient, but to be effective, must provide this information to the healthcare provider or central medical information system, such as a hospital database. Next, description of security issues related to BANs is presented. The article concludes with a discussion of the areas for future work relating the BAN privacy and security.


Background: Body Area Networks (Bans)

The key issues facing BANs are (1) size, (2) weight, (3) interconnection method, (4) operating lifetime, (5) privacy, and (6) security. Size and weight have been largely addressed by technological improvements in device fabrication for external devices. However, they remain challenges for implantable devices, along with the need for the device to be medically inert. Wireless communication provides a solution to the problem of connecting the nodes together without the use of wires and is especially useful for implanted devices to reduce the risk of infection caused by implanting wires to connect the nodes together. Operating lifetime is currently the most challenging issue facing BANs, especially for implantable components powered from batteries. Privacy is important from two standpoints: first, to prevent unauthorized disclosure of medical information; and second, to prevent cross-contamination of data from one person to another (i.e., person A’s BAN reading person B’s information and mistakenly acting on it). Finally, security is important from a data privacy aspect and to prevent malicious or unintentional alternation of medical settings within the BAN (e.g. on a pacemaker).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Received Signal Strength (RSS): The strength of wireless signals as measured by the receiver that are typically measured in units of decibels (dB). If the power output of the transmitter is known, the RSS value can be used to estimate the distance between the transmitter and receiver using electro-magnetic (EM) wave propagation models.

Time-Division Multiple Access (TDMA): A method for scheduling data transmission by breaking time into windows or timeslots. Transmitters may be assigned specific timeslots during which they can transmit data.

Healthcare Information Systems (HISs): Electronic and computer based systems that are targeted at reducing the amount of paper that must be maintained for medical records and medical histories. HISs are also used to quickly transfer medical information between healthcare providers.

Wireless Sensor Network: A collection of wireless devices, including sensors, actuators, and data processing devices (e.g. sink nodes), that are deployed to monitor an area. They are typically designed for long battery life and robustness in terms of maintaining network communication. They typically do not have the same size and weight restrictions as devices in a BAN.

Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs): Digital versions of a patient’s medical record.

ZigBee: A wireless protocol based on IEEE 802.15.4 that supports mesh networking. ZigBee is often used in wireless sensor networks because of the robust communication provided by mesh networking.

Body Area Network (BAN): A collection of portable devices that are placed on or in the body to monitor a user’s health. These devices may be sensors, actuators, or data processing (aggregators). BAN devices are typically designed to be small and wearable or implantable.

Bluetooth: A wireless protocol that is used to connect devices together that are in close proximity. A low energy version of Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low End Extension, was developed to improve Bluetooth’s performance with low-power devices.

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