Wireless Healthcare Standards Evolving

The Continua Health Alliance is trying to solidify an application standard for interconnected healthcare devices that are both mobile, like pulse oximeters, and fixed like sensors used for remote patient monitoring. These technologies promise to ease the burden of caring for the elderly whether in their own homes or assisted living centers. In the quest to automate the care of the aging population, wireless sensors are a necessity keep Grandma from looking like a Borg or to keep her her house from looking like the back of my TV.

It’s generally good when vendors form a consortium to serve the consumer by promising inter-operation. But let’s be frank, agreeing on terms that simplify to products often remove differentiation, and add compliance and standards negotiation hassles that would not otherwise exist. This is where the rubber meets the road, and all to often these efforts struggle because being a leader means being better than standard. A few leaders will largely write the rules.

But in our modern ecosystems there is more at work here. Reading the chronology of press releases for Continua HA, the story depicted is one of struggling to show where you want to go, but not knowing for sure how to get there. Other standards organizations are also competing for their press releases. In a few short months the consortium has already released design guidelines, and changed them to include other standards, even those that are not stable yet. ZigBee, Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, and USB are all brought under the banner, and healthcare application profiles are developed on top of those “standards”.

Something better than a single vendor ecosystem is liable to develop from this. However, be cautiously optimistic about the stability and interoperability that will come from it. Participating vendors get an opportunity to shape the outcome, and will surely do their best to accentuate their strategic advantages. As a user, whether this organization becomes one that herds cats long enough to develop the tiger’s teeth needed to actually ensure interoperability, remains to be seen.