Near field communications (NFC) – featured in recent Samsung television commercials – is the technology that lets users exchange playlists and videos by simply tapping their phones together.
Still, you might wonder whether there is a role for NFC in personal health. There is. NFC is a versatile technology and, as the Samsung commercials demonstrate, its “tap and go” operation can simplify many tasks.
As I explained in my article for NewsFactor Network, “NFC is as close to a cable connection as you can get with wireless.” Though NFC operates at radio frequencies it actually uses magnetic induction. In fact, the NFC antenna is designed to suppress radio waves – not launch them into space. That’s why NFC’s range is only 4 – 20 centimeters. And it’s also why NFC is nearly invulnerable to security attacks from more than a few feet away.
So what are some of the personal health applications for NFC?
NFC is a candidate for connecting consumer devices used to track fitness, monitor vital signs, and perform specialized tests to PCs and smartphones. Today, these devices typically communicate via a USB cable or Bluetooth. However, NFC may prove to be the better solution because it is easy to use and works with passive wireless sensors (such as the disposable wireless diagnostic skin patches made by Gentag).
NFC is already being used to automate home health care. Visiting caregivers can check in and check out merely by tapping an NFC card worn by the patient or installed in a convenient location in the patient’s home. Caregivers can also use the NFC card to verify the patient’s identity and access the patient’s records.
There is even an NFC solution designed to enable surgical patients to return home sooner. Disposable diagnostic skin patches can be used to monitor variations in pressure and temperature for signs of swelling. The patient uses an NFC phone to collect data from the patches and uploads it to their physician.
NFC-readable biometric sensors could, in fact, revolutionize health care. Sensors can be placed on the body to measure things such as blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen, blood glucose, cholesterol, and prothrombin time. Self-test kits for pregnancy, AIDS, and even certain types of cancer can provide NFC-readable results.
NFC can be used to assist visually impaired and physically disabled shoppers. Product displays are equipped with NFC tags that provide product details such as pricing and ingredients. An NFC phone or tablet reads the information aloud using synthesized voice. Visually impaired patients can also use NFC to identify food and other packaged goods at home. NFC can even be used to create “talking medicine packages.” The patient taps the package with an NFC phone for spoken information and directions.
NFC is being applied to monitoring potential sleep disorders. A small card is attached to the patient’s arm and is used to monitor the patient’s physical activity overnight. The card can be read by an NFC phone in the morning and the data can be sent to a physician or therapist.
At least one company (Poken) is using NFC as a substitute for business cards and brochures, and health care is one of their primary target markets. Consumers attending health workshops at local hospitals can collect information with two-way tags (called “Pokens”) and continue interacting after the event via an online hub.
NFC tags can also be used by patients or caregivers to call emergency services. The user taps the phone on a passive tag and the call is automatically placed. The patient’s name and address may also be uploaded.
NFC has a couple of weaknesses. Though NFC is not a good solution for exchanging large quantities of data, it can be used to set up a secure Bluetooth connection. And though NFC’s physical link is extraordinarily secure, NFC phones are vulnerable to rogue tags placed in public locations by mischief makers.
If NFC becomes relatively ubiquitous – as it seems poised to do – then people will surely invent many other personal health, fitness, and safety applications.