Ambient Intelligence and Healthcare
The development of nano-enabled devices in healthcare and Ambient Intelligence
A current development in healthcare is to move from hospital care to home care (care-at-a-distance). Promises of Ambient Intelligence can contribute to the realization of this future vision of healthcare, namely the realization of: “an environment that is aware of our presence and responsive to individual needs.” (Aarts 2003; Rathenau 2004).
Developments in nano-electronics and sensor technology contribute to the realization of the promises of Ambient Intelligence. A current development within Ambient Intelligence is the development of a body-area network, a wireless network of wearable or implantable sensors and processors that constantly monitor physiological conditions, such as heart rate and bloody sugar.
An example of a body-area network (source: human ++ program IMEC):
The patient wears two sensors on his chest that monitor and collect ECG data. These sensors connect to a small device that is worn on the upper arm. This contains a processor that collects the data and makes real-time analysis. When unusual heart rhythm patterns are registered, an alarm goes off. In order to detect unusual patterns, the ECG patch is adjusted for each patient separately.
ECG Patch for early detection of epileptic seizures
In collaboration with a centre for epilepsy, IMEC, nano-electronics research centre, has developed an ECG patch to give early warnings of impending epileptic seizures, based on heart rhythm. Current methods for detection are based on acoustics or patient motions, but these do not detect some severe seizures which are noiseless and motionless. This is something heart rhythm can detect. This is an example of one of the sensors that is part of the body-area network.
This nano-enabled application raises some questions:
When the ECG patch sends out an alarm, who should respond? Should this be a role for close friends/family, or a volunteer, or a specialized clinic?
- Is the wearing of an ECG patch 24/7 an invasion of privacy? What should the protocol be if the patient should choose to remove the patch for a short time?
- The ECG patch and its alarming system do not currently meet the criteria for “health care instruments”, so Health Insurance companies do not yet reimburse the costs. What should be suitable criteria for health care instruments? What are the implications for medical tools that do not use typical medical technology, but telecom technology such as Wi-Fi and GPS?
We would like to invite you to articulate your questions, concerns and ideas about the embedding of the ECG patch and body-area-networks in general to stimulate care-at-a-distance. Please leave your message below.