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USB Looks For Healthcare Edge

Consumers have unprecedented access to high tech medical devices, with items like blood pressure and heart rate monitors available at low cost. But getting the information off those devices and over to a PC, transmitted online, or over to another device for printing or viewing, isn't always possible or cheap. The non-profit USB Implementer's Forum (USB-IF) is moving to change that.

A new USB-IF spec will enable health-related devices, such as blood pressure cuffs and exercise watches, to connect via USB  to PCs as well as to other health appliances and consumer electronics.

The USB Personal Healthcare Device Working Group said it has an ecosystem of more than 14 supporting companies, including big names like Cisco  and Intel . Medical device firms Nonin and Welch Allyn are also on board. The USB-IF said a device class architecture should be available before the end of this year and the first supporting products available for sale not long after.

"Today the medical industry has a lot of proprietary custom connections," Jeff Ravencraft, president of the USB-IF, told internetnews.com. "We used to think of medical devices as only in either the hospital or doctor's office, but now this new wave of digital devices are getting into people's homes. That's a big shift and I think the medical industry understands the benefits of a standard like USB to enable easier communications."

Potential applications include disease management, where someone with a chronic condition could send information from a blood pressure cuff or glucose monitor to health appliances. The information could then be sent to a caregiver for analysis or follow-up. Likewise, elderly citizens living at home independently might have USB monitoring devices which could transmit information to a health appliance or PC and on to a remote caregiver or family member.

In the exercise watch or heart rate monitor example, data could be sent to a PC or cell phone via USB and sent to a coach or caregiver for evaluation or assessment.

Ravencraft said once big volumes are achieved, it's quite likely the price of some of these devices, that currently use proprietary connection technology, will come down.

"There are big companies today that still use their kind of screw, rather than an off-the-shelf one. That's really old thinking," said Ravencraft. "It's through standardization we achieve off-the-shelf volumes and better prices for consumers."