By Megan Williams, contributing writer
mHealth’s numerous security challenges could possibly be addressed by Near Field Magnet Induction technology used for years in hearing aids and pacemakers.
The technology works by creating a short range (a cap of nine feet), low-power, magnetic field around devices. This field allows devices within the bubble to communicate and transfer voice and data. At the same time, it shields those devices from detection by anything outside that bubble. The technology has been used by the CIA, Secret Services, and the FBI, along with Pope Francis’ security services.
Near Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI), an evolution of the growing Near Field Communications sector, is not new to healthcare. For decades, it’s been used in cochlear implants, pacemakers, and hearing aids. Talk around the application in healthcare began to bubble at the 2011 Mobile World Congress because of mentions by technology leaders including Google’s Eric Schmidt, “NFC has been around for a long time, but everything has just started to come together.”
Potential for use in health has also been proposed by Nithya Thilak and Professor Robin Braun of the University Of Technology in Sydney Australia, as proposed in their abstract in ResearchGate. “Compared to other wireless technology, NFMIC is more secure, as it uses bubble space around the user. The user can increase or decrease the size of the bubble according to her application, it is not harmful to the human body, and sufficient data rate is available. It has major application in the medical field, and further research may be required to minimize interference with other medical devices.”
As it stands, NFMI does not support megabit data rates, meaning the transmission of images will not be possible. Additionally, the chip the platform uses hasn’t been updated for almost 15 years.
Still, Michael Abrams, a former pediatric eye surgeon and CEO of FreeLinc Technologies of Boston, believes that in two to five years, the technology will be “ubiquitous”, not in part because of the importance of connected health to the future of healthcare. Abrams, whose company owns dozens of patents on NFMI technology, sees it as the “anti-Bluetooth” and a solution to the hacking vulnerabilities that Bluetooth faces.
He also touts NFMI’s low power usage (it’s a fraction of Bluethooth’s), and the fact that NFMI’s electromagnetic fields decay a thousand time faster than Bluetooth’s. Abrams also highlights the fact that the NSA has already issued warnings around Bluetooth’s vulnerabilities. He does though, acknowledge NFMI will never be a standalone answer to the healthcare security question, and sees it as more of a compliment to a solution that incorporates Bluetooth along with other technologies.