High-Tech Home Devices Spur 'Smart' Health Care

THURSDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- "Smart" devices that communicate health information to doctors and family may soon be commonplace, thanks to new technology announced by the University of Florida and IBM.

The technology could eliminate the need for some doctor's visits by regularly updating physicians on their patients' health information -- such as blood pressure, temperature or respiration -- by text message or e-mail. This information could also help share real-time information about a person's health or well-being with absent loved ones.

"We call it quality-of-life engineering," Sumi Helal, professor of computer engineering and the project's lead UF researcher, said in a prepared statement. "It's really a change of mindset."

This technology would read vital signs the minute a person steps into his or her house, and then, immediately and automatically, transmit it to health care providers, friends or family members.

The researchers hope the technology will make it easier for companies to manufacture and sell smart networked devices. The software is based on "open standards," which means its specifications are publicly available and useable by anyone.

Helal has devoted the past several years to developing smart devices for the elderly in a model home known as the "Gator Tech Smart Home" in Gainesville, Fla. The home includes a microwave that automatically determines the cooking time and sodium content of a frozen meal, as well as an instrument that measures how many steps a person takes, and shares the information with people outside of the home.

The problem with these devices is that they require a team of engineers to install them. In the era of cell phone and PDAs, the researchers decided to develop a technology that requires little more than a household power outlet.

"We decided to create a technology that self-integrates," Helal said. "When you bring it into the house and plug it in, it automatically provides its service and finds a path to the outside world."

The technology may also be useful in other medical settings, such as emergency rooms, where it could monitor vital signs of people in the waiting rooms, allowing doctors to determine who needs to be seen first.

More information

The Department of Health and Human Services has more about medical innovation.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, July 24, 2007