Mary Lynne Nielsen, Technology Initiatives Director, IEEE Standards AssociationInnovation across an array of technology areas—personal health device communications, cloud computing, the smart grid, cyber-security and “Big Data” analytics, among them—have helped the global healthcare community to envision a whole new approach to supporting people in staying well. And standards development is helping this e-health vision transform into reality.

Advances in technologies and standards are allowing many types of more accurate patient data to be securely shared and analyzed across multiple devices and systems, and the impact on wellness monitoring and preventive care is revolutionary.

In the crystalizing world of standards-based e-health, both patient and caregiver will have better information that they can use to make better decisions for maintaining wellness. No longer will they interact in only short visits to the hospital or a doctor’s office; instead, people will be more ubiquitously connected. Wellness monitoring will be fueled by constant real-time data about the connected person’s condition that is securely exchanged through a hedge of care, even as that person goes about her or his daily routine at home or wherever else he or she happens to go. Such a scenario—the underpinning capabilities of which are being actively forged via technology and standards development around the world today—will mean more streamlined conversion of raw patient data into useful intelligence, better-informed decisions and recommendations around preventive care, reduced risk of medical errors and misdiagnosis, and significantly reduced costs for patients and caregivers alike.

Interoperability standards are an integral element of this story.

The IEEE 11073 family of standards is intended to assist healthcare product vendors and integrators in creating interoperable devices and systems for disease management, health and fitness, and independent living. For example, IEEE 11073-10407, “Health Informatics - Personal Health Device Communication - Device Specialization – Blood Pressure Monitor,” defines plug-and-play, interoperable communications between personal telehealth blood pressure monitor devices and compute engines such as cell phones, personal computers, personal-health appliances and set-top boxes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 recognized IEEE 11073-10407 and 11 other IEEE 11073 standards in guidance to the healthcare industry.

Without such interoperability standards, capturing and analyzing patient data end to end would be prohibitively costly and complex across a fragmented infrastructure of proprietary interfaces and manufacturer-specific devices. Most importantly, care would be compromised, as there would be more blind spots confronted as the patient and caregivers attempted to gather a complete picture of the person’s state of wellbeing.

Standards development in interrelated areas is also bringing about the e-health vision of the future. Cloud computing is one of those exciting areas of innovation.

For example, IEEE P2301, “Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles (CPIP),” is being crafted to assist development, construction, and usage of standards-based cloud computing products and services, and IEEE P2302, “Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation (SIIF),” is being written to define cloud-to-cloud interoperability and federation.

The cloud landscape today consists of many independent and incompatible cloud vendors and providers. For each disparate cloud system, there are often multiple options, each with different externally visible interfaces, file formats, and operational conventions—and, in many cases, each of those utilize different semantics.

IEEE P2301 is being written to standardize profiles of definitions of the interfaces, formats, and conventions in cloud computing. In this way, the standard will help promote greater commonality and efficiency in the cloud ecosystem. IEEE P2302 is intended to define the elements that mediate governance and data exchange among clouds and the functional elements (name spaces, standardized units of measurement, trust infrastructure, etc.) in cloud-to-cloud communications. These projects are of interest to the global e-health community because cloud computing is one of the mechanisms that will enable patient data to be securely and cost-efficiently collected, shared, and stored.

Coordinated standards development across the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and other organizations in personal health device communications, cloud computing, and a host of other interrelated technology areas is helping to accelerate rollout of a seamless framework for secure, cost-effective e-health, moving towards the goal of helping more people around the world lead longer, more independent, and more active lives.