Getting Vertical

Continua, HL7 Provide Underpinnings for Connected Health Care

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  May 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

The health care industry has been, and continues to be, one of the leading verticals adopting the latest in communications technology. That’s because advances in connected devices, wireless technology and the like can enable better, faster, more cost-efficient and more holistic health care solutions.

But communication-enabling medical devices; allowing existing and new health care applications to run on new and different platforms; and making all these devices, applications and data work together in a useful and seamless way doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a fair amount of industry collaboration. Two of the key organizations helping to make all work in an efficient and integrated way are Continua and Health Level Seven International.

Continua is a non-profit industry alliance. More than 230 top health care and technology organizations have come together through Continua to develop interoperable personal connected health solutions. Members include such well-known companies as Intel, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments (News - Alert). In fact, Clint McClellan, senior director of market development at Qualcomm, one of the most powerful companies in the wireless space, earlier this year was tapped as president and chair of Continua’s board of directors.

“Qualcomm (News - Alert) pioneered the wireless health care market eight years ago and continues to work with new partners in the medical field to create technologies that transform health care,” McClellan said in accepting the post in January.

“We are excited to increase our board participation this year,” he added. “Additionally, we are looking forward to the continued development of end-to-end, future-proof Continua systems that will feed into Health Level Seven International (HL7) systems to assist companies in the medical device, pharmaceutical and health service industries in creating connected health solutions and establishing new business models.”

HL7 is a not-for-profit, ANSI-accredited organization working to provide a framework and related standards for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information. It has more than 2,300 members including 500 corporate members that represent more than 90 percent of the information systems vendors serving the health care vertical.

HL7 has a memorandum of understanding with Continua, and the two organizations collaboratewith one another, says HL7 CEO Dr. Charles Jaffe.

“We have a very productive MOU with [Continua],” adds Jaffe. “Continua writes the standards for connecting home care devices to local systems. They don't write transport standards within a health information system. Moreover, Continua supports personal health and doesnot deal with devices used in physician offices or in hospitals.”

More on Continua

Continua has created what it calls the Continua Enabling Software Library and a related program through which common source code is available. This is all part of an effort to reduce the amount of software work required to bring products into compliance with Continua guidelines.

Three use cases were taken into consideration as Continua and its membership put together this program. One was to provide a base of code that could be used as a starting point for organizations implementing products designed to be compliant with the Continua Interoperability Guidelines. The second was to provide a reference system that can be used to help understand proper operation of the protocols associated with Continua products. And the third was to provide a rapid prototype environment in which implementations of device specializations can be done with a minimal amount of effort.

The CESL code base was developed by Lamprey Networks Inc. via a contract with Continua. It is broken into an object-oriented portion written in C++ that closely models the ISO/IEEE (News - Alert) 11073-20601 standard, and a portion, written in C, designed for embedded environments. The source code is available under a perpetual license, which Continua says was modeled after the Apache effort. That includes example code for Continua devices (ISO/IEEE 11073-20601 Agents) and Continua application hosting devices (ISO/IEEE 11073-20601 Managers).

Continua and LNI also have worked together on the creation of two products: a 20601 manager stack and a complete Continua 20601 manager, called HealthLink.

HealthLink OXP is an implementation of the Continua PAN Client interface, an ISO/IEEE 11073-20601 Manager. HealthLink OXP is a required component to collect and manage data from Continua Certified Personal Medical Devices. HealthLink represents a telehealth service and involves the use of Continua's design guidelines to send information across a personal area network interface between medical and other devices, and a communications hub, such as a mobile phone or set-top box; a wide area network linking the user to a remote monitoring database or personal health record; and a health record interface linking a remote monitoring service to an electronic health record system.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Continua Health Alliance and its member companies Andago, Bluegiga, Intel, Texas Instruments, Trac and ZyXEL demonstrated various personal connected health solutions. That included Continua Certified solutions aimed at managing chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure and asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Products involved in the demos included a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff and weight scale from A&D, a Bluetooth pulse oximeter from Nonin Medical and a Cypak USB converter cable designed to connect legacy devices to the Continua ecosystem. These devices were combined with HealthLink PC managers from companies like Intel and Lamprey Networks that turn PCs into home health gateways. That enables Continua devices to deliver data to personal health records and electronic health records.

Meanwhile, Continua just last month announced that it is partnering with The Continental Automated Buildings Association, which does research related to health care.

Chuck Parker, executive director of the Continua Health Alliance (News - Alert), says that the partnership willallow Continua “to examine new cost-effective ways to enable individuals whowish to remain living independently in their own homes for as long aspossible to use personal connected health care to do so."

 Specifically, the agreement will allow both organizations to leverage CABA's study "Aging in the Connected Home,” which will examine and determine potential connected home product, service and business opportunities based on needs and expectations of the senior consumer market to support what the partners call “aging-in-place”.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi