After successfully bringing together more than 500 companies to create the Matter smart home interoperability standard, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) has set its sights on an audacious new standards plan. The organization has formed a health and wellness working group that wants to build some form of interoperability between home medical devices, smart home devices, and others.
I’m leaving others purposely vague here because they might include family members, insurance firms, pharmacies, or doctors. It’s a bit unclear. The CSA’s message is that it’s early days and the tent is big and open, so everyone should come on in to figure out how to make health and wellness work in the home. It’s a great goal, but I have some thoughts about where the CSA should focus for the most success.
The CSA is working with a nonprofit called the Center for Medical Interoperability (C4MI), whose most recent success has been a platform for tracking personal protective equipment (PPE) across hospitals nationwide. It was formally validated last year. C4MI also released a specification back in 2019 that lets medical devices and gateways exchange clinical data with patients and caregivers using standard data models.
It’s not clear if this specification has been adopted and if so, how widely. In an interview with Aaron Goldmuntz, the chief operating officer of C4MI and the head of the health and wellness working group at the CSA, he used the PPE platform as an example of a success and declined to spend much time explaining what else the organization has done.
He was happy to share statistics about the lack of interoperability and data sharing between devices in a hospital setting, which is where C4MI has been focused. But other than fall detection, he declined to give specific use cases that the health and wellness working group might work toward. Michelle Mindala-Freeman, the head of marketing and member services for the CSA, also mentioned fall detection as a good potential use case, and said that the initial focus for the group would likely involve aging in place.
I got the impression that the CSA hopes to use existing sensors and devices in the smart home that are tied to more traditional consumer medical and wellness devices, such as activity trackers or sleep trackers, to deliver a more holistic picture of the health of a person living in one.
But as both Goldmuntz and Freeman have said, the effort is still in its early days. Any standards organization has to walk a tightrope whereby it lays out a clear vision but leaves the concept open enough that the organization can entice new members to pony up and place their stamp on that vision.
With Matter, the CSA had the biggest names in the smart home come together with a clear demand to write a standard that would allow devices to work together. At its creation, the Zigbee Alliance (which was what the CSA was called back then) had already started solving this problem with its own data models for smart home devices, and borrowed some of the networking concepts put forth by the founding members.
The CSA’s health and wellness working group lacks that level of clarity and technical groundwork, but thanks to the Matter standard at least half of the foundation the working group needs to build has been laid. With smart speakers, televisions, lights, outlets, thermostats, and a variety of sensors already part of the Matter standard, it will be easy to use interactions with those devices in a home as a proxy for whether or not someone is awake and moving around the home.
That solves one of the most basic issues tied to helping someone age in place by themselves. After that, health data is a nice-to-have, but far more relevant for those monitoring a parent or patient from afar is whether or not they are taking their medicines properly, left a stove on, left the home, or forgot to secure the home. Other use cases, such as whether or not they are getting enough exercise, are eating properly (or at all) are also relevant, and can be just as essential.
I would also add that some way to update, fix, and set up the smart home gear remotely, and perhaps share that burden among multiple parties, is important for this sort of standard. Finally, any standard needs to have security and privacy architected in at the beginning.
Matter has done a great job incorporating security into the standard, and Freeman has said that privacy would be an essential component to the work that the health and wellness working group would perform. Freeman also told me that the entire umbrella organization of the CSA is focusing on privacy, with an emphasis on three elements: transparency, accuracy, and choice.
Transparency involves telling consumers what data is being collected and where it’s being used, while accuracy will involve the CSA validating that what players in the ecosystem say is actually true. Choice will ensure that consumers can choose what data they share and recognize that different people will have different levels of tolerance when it comes to sharing.
If the health and wellness working group tackles the use cases mentioned above, and adds a focus on privacy, that’s a pretty big standards effort. If the smart home device makers are on board (and it’s not clear if they are, since Freeman declined to name any members of the working group outside of C4MI), then the focus should be on filling the use cases associated with medicine adherence. That would involve pharmacies (luckily Amazon is getting into that game and it’s already a CSA member), and perhaps electronic records providers, such as Epic or Cerner, will participate.
The federal government has already pushed to make electronic health records more accessible via APIs, so maybe the CSA won’t have to involve them or hospital systems. Tracking falls, movement, and exercise could require adding members who make fitness trackers, fall sensors, and maybe even connected exercise equipment. Tracking food intake and nutrition is more challenging, but sensors on stoves, fridges, and other kitchen appliances are set to become part of the Matter standard, so there are possibilities.
I think that if the CSA has a clear vision tied to aging in place, and doesn’t get too distracted by focusing on wellness or bringing in formal medical gear too early, the working group has a chance to build a usable standard. And once that’s in place, it can branch out into the more highly regulated stuff.
And just for fun, may I offer an excellent video that shows how all of this could be circumvented by our wiser and craftier elders.