The growth of the aging population increases the pressure on traditional healthcare systems that suffer from increased costs and shortage of resources. Recent advances in biosensor and wireless communications technologies enable the design of advanced mobile wearable telehealth monitoring solutions for elderly care. These solutions promise to improve the level of care and quality of life for the elderly population, and to expedite the trend of shifting healthcare delivery from hospitals to the community. The next level of personal care will be achieved when such wireless health solutions become integrated into the smart home environment.
The Growing Burden of Elderly Care and the Paradigm Shift in Healthcare Delivery
With an aging population, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are major epidemics that significantly reduce quality of life and life expectancy, afflicting more half of all people older than 60. Hypertension is the main cause of cardiovascular disease which is today the #1 killer in the Western world. This is the cause of an ever-growing burden on national healthcare systems, which already suffer from increasing costs and chronic shortage of resources.
As healthcare providers and national governments have been searching for cheaper and more responsive ways of delivering services, this has brought about a significant growth in telehealth and homecare services that enable people with chronic conditions to take greater control of their own health, and to be treated at home rather than keeping them in the hospital. The result is a significant paradigm shift in the healthcare industry that is taking place on a global scale. After centuries of delivering health care in hospitals, healthcare providers are now shifting towards treating patients in their homes and communities.
Innovative Wireless Solutions Hold Promise for the Future
Recent advances in biosensor miniaturization and mobile wireless communications technologies hold the key to this change and enable the introduction of highly usable mobile-health devices to enhance elderly care.
Tadiran LifeCare, a new business unit of Israeli-based wireless communications company Tadiran Spectralink Ltd. (www.tadspec.com/lifecare), recently unveiled a series of new and exciting products addressing these trends. These cellular-based wrist-wearable mobile monitoring devices enable the transmission of real-time data, such as medical information, environmental data, location or distress alarm, to a remote monitoring center. All of these products incorporate a built-in Wireless Module by Siemens Communications (www.siemens.com/communications), enabling users to be monitored continuously and effortlessly from anywhere, at anytime.
MDKeeper™ – “Mini Hospital” on the Wrist
MDKeeper™ – which was recently unveiled by Siemens Communications and Tadiran Spectralink Ltd. at the Innovations Day on Communication Networks 2005 – is a portable “mini-hospital” which is designed to make life easier for at-risk patients, chronically ill and people requiring nursing care. The device lets patients monitor their health and get help when there is no doctor around.
MDKeeper™ is worn on the wrist like a watch and enables continuous monitoring of patients’ vital signs, such as pulse rate, Electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2). Patient at risk with cardiac or circulatory diseases, seniors and people with chronic illnesses can enjoy constant monitoring and support without having to visit their doctor. The information is stored, analyzed and transmitted in real time, or as needed, by an embedded Siemens MC55 GSM/GPRS radio module, to a remote medical center, where it is received and further analyzed.
A special medical monitoring station, called RemoteKeeper™, enables medical professionals to view, analyze and react on the information or alerts received from patients at remote locations. It also has a database and can be integrated with other hospital information systems, allowing exchange of data for better informed medical decision-making.
In addition, the device can send emergency calls or place mobile calls to predefined people or call center. With its integrated cellular module, the device works almost everywhere in the world on all GSM/GPRS networks. Above all, MDKeeper™ is very lightweight and easy to operate, requiring very little intervention from the user. Additionally, it can provide value added services, such as reminding the user when to take his/her medication or go to his/her doctor’s appointment.
First product tests are currently being conducted in Israel and in Sweden (with Karolinska hospital and TeliaSonera telecom operator), with results expected later this year. MDKeeper™ will be commercially available early next year, with future models to be introduced later, that may include additional innovations, such as blood pressure measurements; real-time video encounters; and GPS location finding to enable the dispatch of specific medical emergency help when and where it is needed.
Figure 1: MDKeeper™
MDKeeper™ enables elderly users to be continuously monitored for their health by remote medical professionals, trigger an alarm, talk to a doctor, receive calls from anyone, and stay in touch with relatives or caregivers, from anywhere at anytime.
SKeeper™ – Cellular Distress Alarm for those in Need
Figure 2: SKeeper™
With SKeeper™ worn on their wrist or neck, elderly people can trigger a distress alarm, talk to a doctor or a relative using speed dialling, receive calls from anyone, stay in touch and be located by relatives or caregivers, from anywhere at anytime.
Another new device intended for elderly or chronically ill, or even for children, is SKeeper™, a wrist-wearable personal locator and cellular communicator with distress alarm. SKeeper™ is not a medical device but is designed to provide peace of mind to users, their relatives and their caregivers. It can be used for example to assist people with Alzheimer. SKeeper™ enables users to place cellular calls to pre-defined numbers (such as to relatives or family doctor), location finding via a Web interface or another mobile phone, and a distress alarm in case of need, so help or medical advice is always just a pushbutton away.
Integrating with the Smart Home
Future smart homes are expected to enable many types of services. One of the services that are now being investigated by many technology companies — not only those from the healthcare industry â€“ is home care. Future advances in wireless technologies, such as WiMax will enable the integration of wireless healthcare services inside the smart home environment, freeing users from the need to frequent their doctors.
The practical implementation of new wireless technologies offers elderly people and their caregivers enhanced quality of life, peace of mind and cost savings. Although healthcare systems are quite conservative, many experts believe that eventually the huge benefits of telehealth will overcome the bureaucratic and regulatory barriers and will become the foundation for future healthcare and social care systems. With innovative mobile-health solutions such as MDKeeper™ and SKeeper™ coming into the market soon, it is likely that these benefits will become an integral part of the smart home setting in the not-so-distant future.