Ano is a Justmeans staff writer for health, and an instructional designer for the newly created Master of Health Care Delivery program (mhcds.dartmouth.edu) at Dartmouth College. Ano brings over a decade of evidenced-based health research and writing, and a Masters of Public Health from Dartmouth Medical School to the Justmeans Editorial section. Special interests include health policy, conflict ...
Wireless health care: Advances in real-time telemonitoring
Recent health care research and innovation in the management of chronic diseases has the potential to revolutionize how health care is delivered. Since continuity of care is vital with chronic conditions, but patients don't spend their lives in the doctor's office, the potential to be able to telemonitor patients from a distance is only limited by technology and innovative thinking.
Now, new research from India indicates that technology may no longer be a barrier. Writing in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, health care researchers from Kalasalingam University in Tamil Nadu, India, report on their successful efforts to monitor Parkinson's and COPD patients using the wireless mobile phone network. Real-time vital sign monitors keep track of such measurements as body temperature, heart rate, body movement, and blood pressure, and transmit the data back to an electronic medical record. The system can be programmed to alert a doctor or nurse when a measurement, blood pressure for example, dips too low, or spikes too high. Current technology allowed the Indian researchers to develop wireless-based low cost, lightweight sensors that are small enough and have sufficient battery life to be carried unobtrusively for long periods of time.
The chronic disease management potential of this technology is pretty clear. It could also be used, for example, as a way for diabetics to send in blood sugar measurements to their doctor, or for a patient with lung condition to report how often they are using their asthma medication. Beyond these practical health care applications, there also lies the research potential. The ability to measure and monitor a person's vital signs while they perform everyday tasks in their everyday environment could be invaluable. "White coat hypertension" is a term used to describe how a patient's anxiety in the exam room can artificially increase blood pressure, but there are plenty of other situations where it might be valuable to know how a patient's vital signs are behaving when they are outside traditional health care settings in their "natural habitat," at home, work, or elsewhere in their community.
Countries such as Denmark with sophisticated electronic information infrastructure to support their health care systems already utilize telemonitoring to improve quality of life, outcomes, and reduce health care costs. Those systems are generally not portable, however, and require a patient to sit at their computer desk and allow a sensor to make its measurements before transmitting them. The Indian researchers may have rendered the desk obsolete to a 3G network.
Photo credit: The author