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NFC In Smartphones Transforms Healthcare

Contributed by Joanne C. Kelleher

The MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge has started a Near Field Communications cluster special interest group. I attended their second NFC meeting earlier this week, along with at least 225 other people. The theme was NFC In Smartphones Transforms Healthcare: with over 100 million NFC smartphones expected in service by 2012 and over 500 million by 2015, the impact on healthcare will be transformational.

Here are some observations from this event:

The NSF Cluster organizers packed a ton of content into a 3 hour event. The agenda included:

  • Professor Masanori Akiyama M.D., Ph.D. presented NFC in Japan: National Project of Telehealth in Home Healthcare at Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
  • Three brief technology presentations: NFC in sleep monitoring, pill monitoring/smart packaging, and smart NFC sensors
  • A panel discussion with the technology presenters, four additional speakers and lots of questions from the audience

Most of the focus on NFC applications for smart phones has been related to payments. Healthcare is still a small piece.

Gagan Puranik, an Associate Director at Verizon Wireless, felt that although NFC has been around for 8 years, we will see synchronization in 2012-2013.

From a software developer’s standpoint, building apps for NFC phones is frustrating. Android has a development kit, but it isn’t full. RIM has the richest dev kit, but it isn’t all turned on. Microsoft will be releasing their dev kit later this year and Apple is still TBD. But this is also an opportunity. The framework for NFC that creates ubiquity hasn’t been created yet. There is an MIT professor who is developing an easy to use NFC framework. Once this is ready to share it will be a topic at a future NFC Cluster event.

The question of security and privacy came up, including HIPAA and the concern of hackers accessing medical data. Most NFC tags have a 4 & 6 cm read range when accessed by NFC-enabled smart phones. Puranik explained that the NFC tag must be within a few meters for hacking to occur. He also said that there are two types of tags, with the two-way tags being more secure than the one-way tag. Nick Holland, Senior Analyst at Yankee Group, said that for healthcare applications the security will be layered with some sort of pin or biometric system in the front and the data will be stored safely in databases using the same types of security functions as other computer systems. He said the perception of security is going to be important.

Professor Masanori Akiyama M.D., Ph.D. gave an interesting presentation on a NFC-enabled home health care monitoring system in Japan. Much of Asia is facing a healthcare crisis due to the aging of their population, increased medical care costs and health insurance deficits. Many older Japanese live alone and don’t have support so until recently, the average hospital stay in Japan was 17 days. This monitoring system allows health data to be collected at home thus allowing people to leave the hospital earlier. Professor Akiyama explained the differences in the phone infrastructure between Japan and the US. For example, a SIM card that can be obtained in Japan is usually a loan from the carrier and when a contract is canceled, it is necessary to return it. Each unique SIM card can only be obtained by showing proper identification, thus preventing impersonators. Professor Akiyama’s presentation slides contain lots of details.

View the slides from this event here – (Link updated 4-17-2012).

The NFC Forum plans to hold a NFC hack-a-thon in the fall.

Their next event, being held with the RFID, Auto-ID & Sensing cluster, is the 3rd annual Auto-ID & Sensing Solutions Expo on March 28, 2012 at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. SecureRF is one of 40+ exhibitors. We hope to see you there, over 400 people are expected. Register now at