Just a decade ago talking about remote patient monitoring using wearable technology sounds a dreaming idea far from a realistic approach. Although some technologies like the ‘Holter Monitor’ was already used for monitoring heart rate of patients at home, the application of wearable sensors were limited for research applications rather than clinical routine purpose. Part of challenge was the presence of wire, battery life limit, and bulky nature of sensors that reduces patient acceptability of using such technology for daily life monitoring.
But this has been changed recently that in turn opens tremendous opportunities for designing various remote medicine applications. Specifically, technology of miniaturized motion sensors are progressing with unbelievable speed and now we have a variety of highly wearable and unobtrusive sensors that can gather a various physiological or motor behavior of patients everywhere and during activity of daily living. These new sensors replace the mass of wires and cables that connect patients to machines to monitor physiological data such as heart rate, respiration, brain activities or quantify patient motor behavior to various interventions.
One of these technologies that has been recently featured in Science (August 2011 Issue) is Stick-On Tattoo sensors. The new “electronic skin” technology, called epidermal electronics system (EES), was developed by an international team of scientists and engineers. The EES is the result of collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, and Tufts University, all in the US, and the Institute of High Performance Computing in Singapore, and the Dalian University of Technology in China. In an accompanying Perspective article in the same issue of Science, Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, writes that the “electronic skin” that Rogers and colleagues have developed will not only allow patient monitoring to be “simpler, more reliable, and uninterrupted”, but will also solve many problems with current systems whose complicated wiring and cables are inconvenient and distressing for patients and their doctors. Existing technology is already sophisticated and able to monitor a range of physiological variables, such as heart rate, brain wave and activity, but the EES offers a way to do this that is more accessible and convenient, requiring negligible power, and using sensors that are nearly weightless.
To that end, the technology is there but there is still a big lacking about what we can extract using this new generation of sensors? I believe the true winners in remote medical applications are those who developed algorithms allow extracting clinically significant information out of these sensors. Very soon such technologies would be widely available to public that indeed will increase exponentially the values of the developed algorithms for extracting significant information out of them.
The Measured Life and Personal Health Monitoring.
Part of our SALSA-CLEAR research activities includes focusing on developing adapted biomechanical model of the human body and signal processing to extract variables out of these sensors and suitable for various clinical applications such as diabetes care, elderly care, fall prevention, and outcome evaluation. Our team recently received an invited lecture in the EMBC 2011 conference in Boston (http://embc2011.embs.org/) to present the application of wearable sensors for human motion analysis at the end of this month. EMBC is the biggest of his kind and of one the most prestigious conference in the world regarding the application of engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. There are several special sessions in this conferences focusing on application of wearable sensors for various clinical applications.