Sensors to Monitor Older Adults’ Health
Technological advances have provided medical professionals with many devices and systems to collect and analyze patients’ health information, but many of these technologies do not share data with each other. The lack of streamlined information sharing creates inefficiencies and, potentially, inconsistencies in patient care.
Now, University of Missouri researchers are working to develop an in-home health monitoring and alert system that streams patients’ individualized health information between homes and hospitals. The system’s ability to provide comprehensive health information could lead to better care for patients, as well as reduced costs for individuals and health systems.
“Consider an elderly man who lives alone and falls and breaks his shoulder; when he falls, the system of sensors detects his fall and sends for help immediately,” said Marjorie Skubic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the MU College of Engineering. “Additionally, the physicians could evaluate video of the fall captured by the sensors to determine how the man fell or what led to the fall. The fall data also helps medical professionals educate the patient on how to prevent similar falls in the future.”
Skubic said the technology she and her colleagues are developing would give adult children and other caregivers peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are monitored and will receive help if needed.
“In the system we’re developing, the home and hospital devices would be interconnected, which would allow more coordinated care with lower risk of complications,” Skubic said. “As patients transfer between care units, sensor data are automatically delivered to their bedsides by the integrated healthcare platform. When patients return home, the system continues to track their activity, behaviors and vital signs and sends alerts if health changes are detected.”
Skubic and her colleagues have been working with sensor technologies for more than a decade and have successfully integrated video-game technology into residents’ rooms at assisted-care facilities. Sensors detect falls and walking patterns as well as pulse and respiration rate. Sensors also monitor how often individuals use the restroom, which may suggest whether someone is experiencing a urinary tract infection or stomach virus. Now, Skubic and her colleagues hope to make these sensor technologies available in elderly individuals’ homes so they can “age in place” and live longer, healthier lives independently.
“These ‘smart home’ systems have the potential to create tremendous cost savings for individuals and health care systems, especially if used throughout the country,” Skubic said. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that the United States spends $31 billion annually for preventable hospitalizations among adults, and many hospitalizations could be avoided through better integration and coordination of medical care. By streamlining the healthcare operation into a cohesive system, we will save costs, provide better care, and achieve improved health outcomes.”
Skubic, along with her collaborator Julian Goldman of Harvard University and several other team members, presented their research on closed-loop health care June 11 in Washington, D.C., as part of the SmartAmerica Challenge Expo. Launched in December 2013, the SmartAmerica Challenge seeks to foster new collaborations, ideas and technologies that lead to new investments and jobs. More than 100 organizations from academia, industry and government form teams to demonstrate how cyber-physical systems—which join networks of sensors, controls and processors to create new capabilities—could improve transportation, emergency services, health care, security, resource conservation and delivery, manufacturing, and more.