#HIMSS12: Mobile health’s next frontier: The stealth vest

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MedCity News is providing in-depth coverage of HIMSS2012 as part of a special series sponsored by Hyland Software.

The next milestone in the mobile health revolution involves wireless wearable technology that uses sensors to continuously communicate and record patient data.

Mobile monitoring technology holds the potential to reduce health costs and could take many forms — a contact lens that reads and shares data about blood glucose levels, or a device asthmatics wear that continuously monitors the concentration of dust in the air, said Todd Stokes, a researcher at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

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Stokes broadly labeled such mobile monitoring technology as a stealth vest: wearable technology that can continuously communicate data without the patient even being aware of it.

That said, the Internet certainly hasn’t done much to cut health costs so far, and in fact, in some regard can accentuate poor patient behavior. Hypochondriacs can now find symptoms to thousands of diseases they can convince themselves they have, or people can use Internet research as a means of avoiding going to the doctor, Stokes said.

But all that could change, in part thanks to a new technology platform called Arduino, which is a flexible, open-source microcontroller that can connect a mobile device to a variety of sensors.

Best of all, devices can be made cheaply using Arduino. Stokes said that for less than $150, his students have made a prototype of a children’s bracelet that allows users to push one of four buttons to indicate the severity of pain they’re experiencing.

Further, prototypes of the devices can be created using 3-D printers, which use a plastic similar to that of LEGOs. That allows for rapid prototyping of devices in different shapes that could work with different parts of patients’ bodies, Stokes said.

It’s a safe bet that mobile monitoring devices like those built on the Arduino platform will find their way into more and more patients’ hands in the coming years.

But that presents clinicians with a challenge that the health system will have to grapple with, Stokes said: Many of these devices that are likely to be adopted by consumers will fall outside the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so should that data be included in a patient’s medical record?

That’s not a question that needs an answer now, but it’s something clinicians and health IT leaders need to start thinking about.


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Brandon Glenn

By Brandon Glenn MedCity News

Brandon Glenn is the Ohio bureau chief for MedCity News.
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