MobiHealth uses Body Area Network concept to promote personalised mobile health services

The Hague 06 September 2002During the recent Congress on ICT-Knowledge which took place in The Hague, The Netherlands, Professor Dimitri Konstantas from the University of Twente presented the MobiHealth project, funded by the European Commission. The MobiHealth consortium aims at introducing mobile personalised patient management applications established through wireless network services including GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System). The ideal scenario consists in setting up a Body Area Network (BAN) and helping to generate an individualised dialogue in real time between the patient at home and the remote health care provider.

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Professor Konstantas started by addressing the current state in health care. Since life expectancy increases, chronic patients as well as citizens are becoming more conscious and responsible about their health. It is also true that in-home patients have better chances to recover than when staying in the hospital but they require permanent health monitoring instead. Today, we already have the technology to perform this but mobile patient management has to be accepted by the public.

The tools at hand are mobile medical sensors and wireless public networks, GSM, and the Internet serving to transmit vital signs with a mobile patient manager, to collect medical data, and to send medical feedback provided by the General Practitioner or specialist. This kind of patient management affects a lot of people so there is definitely a market. In Germany alone, there are 2 to 6 million potential users, according to Professor Konstantas. The costs savings amount to 20 percent yearly and between 50 to 60 percent of costs due to late stage diseases.

Personalised patient management and personal medical advice involve a flexible and reliable system which guarantees privacy and security of the medical record. Sensors and mobile devices worn by patients are already available but developed independently. Therefore, the MobiHealth project partners are planning to set up clinical trials in different European test sites by means of today's existing technology. The question is how it will be evaluated. To this purpose, they want to create a generic Body Area Network (BAN) with all required sensors and actuators integrated, which will continuously monitor the vital signals of the patient and relay them to the health centre.

The integration of a customisable mobile health BAN thus involves a mobile communication device such as the Compaq iPAQ, the vital signs sensors, and wireless communication technology like for instance GPRS, to create a wearable mobile network that functions as a health monitoring tool for both health care professional and private personal use. Data will be transmitted via GPRS to a remote data repository system, which is physically located at the University of Twente for archiving and real time processing purposes. The health care professional's computer system will access this system through the Internet to display and interpret the data.

Professor Konstantas emphasised that economic, ethical, and social implications of mobile health services also will be validated in the project. This means that the socio-ethical limits of patient measurements and data capture have to be defined carefully. To give an example: the daily visits of a nurse to a patient's home cannot be eliminated when that nurse is the only person on whom the patient can depend. Legal issues will have to be solved as well, such as accreditation of the devices and applications.

Eventually, the consortium will develop and try out new scenarios, applications, and methodologies for mobile health, validating both the MobiHealth BAN and the capabilities of the experimental 2.5 and 3G network solutions to support the new services. The existing public GPRS and experimental UMTS infrastructures will be validated regarding their suitability and usability for mobile health. In any case, the advantage with GPRS and UMTS is that there is no delay in sending the data since users are always connected and constantly on-line.

The project will also contribute to the standardisation of the new value-added services for mobile health applications, so that prospects for new business can be improved. Mobile health services will not be restricted to in-home patient monitoring but will also involve post-treatment follow-up, trauma care, sports and recreation, chronic disease research, pharmaceutical research, and remote assistance in cases of accidents when mobile devices are used to communicate with the hospital and to send data from the ambulance. As such, it is possible to prepare the operating room on beforehand which can save a victim's life.

MobiHealth was launched in May 2002 and has a duration of 18 months. Professor Konstantas concluded by saying that the project has 14 partners from 5 countries with Ericsson Germany as the overall project administrator. The other partners include the University of Twente, Lulea University of Technology, Telia Mobile, Telefónica Móviles, GesundheitScout 24, Corporatio Sanitari Clínic, Medisch Spectrum Twente, Twente Medical Systems International, Compaq Netherlands, Philips Research Laboratories, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, CMG Wireless Data Solutions, and Yucat. More information is available at the MobiHealth Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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