Brussels, 21 Sep 2006
An EU-funded project has developed a series of tools to facilitate remote health monitoring of people with chronic diseases and conditions. Early trials on patients with a range of conditions have demonstrated the value of these e-health tools to patients, doctors and the wider healthcare system. It is estimated that over the next decade the number of chronically ill patients in Europe will rise to over 100 million. Many chronically ill people require regular check-ups and their lives, and those of their carers, can quickly become a seemingly endless round of trips to hospitals and clinics for tests to monitor their condition. Very often, the check-ups will simply reveal that everything is fine; but many patients still worry about spending long periods away from their healthcare providers..
Running these tests also takes up a lot of doctors' and nurses' time, and while the patient is at the hospital, their bed cannot be used by someone who may be seriously ill.
The HealthService 24 (HS24) project aims to develop a mobile health care service which will allow healthcare professionals to follow their patients' progress remotely, thereby freeing the patient from repeated medical appointments and improving their quality of life.
The system uses state of the article technologies, such as Body Area Networks (BANs), wireless broadband communications and wearable medical devices. Users are fitted with sensors interconnected under a BAN and managed by a PDA or mobile phone. The sensors are able to monitor a range of vital signs, including oxygen saturation, ECG, respiration, activity and temperature. Data collected are transmitted continuously via a wireless service to the medical centre, where they can be analysed by doctors and nurses.
'Patients can be remotely assessed, diagnosed and treated,' explained Project Coordinator Jennie Weingartner of Ericsson Germany to IST Results. 'In the case of rapidly deteriorating medical conditions, the data centre can send an SMS alarm or provide the patient with first-level medical support.'
As well as freeing up time for both patient and healthcare provider, the system also offers considerable cost savings, while the easy availability of data on the patient means treatment can be fine-tuned to better fit the patient's needs.
The first round of trials of the system finished earlier this year, and feedback from both patients and doctors was overwhelmingly positive. Meanwhile negative feedback has been used to further improve the system.
One trial involved women with high risk pregnancies, which usually necessitate regular visits to the gynaecologist to monitor both mother and baby's vital signs. In the trial, women who were approaching their due date applied the HS24 Body Area Network for one hour a day to register their uterine activity. The gynaecologist monitored the data sent by the device and only called the woman into the clinic if complications were detected. Feedback indicated that in general the system was comfortable to wear. There were reports of mobile phones interfering with the data registration process; this problem has been solved for the next generation of devices.
In Cyprus, the system was tested on patients with heart problems. Again, feedback from users was largely positive, and patients found the system to be convenient to them. Early problems linked to poor connectivity to the local wireless network were resolved by the project team. The hospital observed that patients using the system were much less likely to have unexpected admissions to hospital. Furthermore, those using the system could be discharged from hospital earlier as they felt reassured. The hospital increased the efficiency of the HS24 system by integrating it into the wider Hospital Information System.
'Professionals have concluded that the system could easily be applied to their current work practices,' says Dr Weingartner. Ericsson has developed a commercial product based on the HS24 concept, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands is continuing to carry out research into new applications which could be integrated into the existing system.
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