Researchers Develop Wireless Health Monitoring
Inexpensive Technology Promises to Greatly Bolster Patient Care
April 20, 2009
There’s one weak link when it comes to monitoring patients’ health after they’ve returned home: the patients themselves.
Wireless technology and advanced sensor-based systems developed by engineers at UT Dallas, however, could go a long way toward changing that.
People with diabetes, congestive heart disease and many other conditions benefit greatly from daily precise tracking of blood pressure, blood glucose levels, weight, blood oxygenation and other physical signs – especially during the period right after hospitalization. Patient compliance, however, hovers at a paltry 20 percent or less.
“The biggest problem with existing approaches is that the patient is in charge, and as a result compliance and data are both unreliable,” said Dinesh Bhatia, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas. “Few people are good at monitoring much besides their weight.”
And regular visits by a nurse are expensive.
Dr. Bhatia realized sometime ago, though, that much of the technology exists to inexpensively address the issue. Start by using a combination of wireless technologies such as ZigBee, Bluetooth, WiFi and cellular. Then, by wirelessly linking any number of patient-monitoring devices – such as weight scales, an automated blood pressure cuff and a fingertip blood oxygenation monitor – to a patient’s home computer, cellphone or PDA, it’s easy to regularly transmit data to a doctor’s office or to a patient’s permanent health record.
Regular, accurate data then permits precise monitoring, trend analysis and a methodical approach to modifying patient care and managing disease.
“We’ve now shown this to be fully functional and can expect patient compliance close to 100 percent,” Dr. Bhatia said.
In addition, immediate care can be summoned in case of a medical emergency, and the technology is also suitable for the growing population of elderly people who live alone.
“We now have a thorough understanding of this low-cost monitoring technology,” Dr. Bhatia added. “Our long-term goal is to not only provide cost-effective solutions for the developed world but also for developing countries where such affordable wireless devices could be capitalized upon in rural health-care settings.”
Dr. Bhatia and his students are also working on advanced sensors and patient-monitoring technologies for implantable devices, intensive care units and geriatric care. He regularly teaches courses on biomedical instrumentation and medical devices, and his lectures on patient-monitoring technologies were well attended when he traveled to universities worldwide in 2007 and 2008 as the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society’s distinguished lecturer.
Dallas-area startup company 5M Medical has now licensed parts of his team’s technology, which has been under development in UT Dallas labs since 2007 with funding from Texas Instruments. Plus Dr. Bhatia’s Pervasive Healthcare Team is working with several area hospitals and clinicians to define clinically useful technology for the next generation of disease prevention and management.
Dr. Bhatia’s work takes place within his Embedded and Adaptive Computing Group (http://www.eac.utdallas.edu), which is part of the Jonsson School’s Center for Integrated Circuits and Systems.
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Medical monitoring technology under development at the Jonsson School includes (left) a Biote node architecture board, which relays data wirelessly from body sensors and other devices to a home-based server, and (right) a sensor for monitoring temperature and motion.
Dinesh Bhatia (foreground) is getting help from doctoral students A.L. Praveen Aroul (left) and William Walker in his work to develop medical monitoring technology.