German researchers aim to set patients free with wireless telemedicine applications

Sankt Augustin 23 March 2004Researchers from three Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany have developed a wireless armband that can monitor vital signs such as temperature, pulse, blood oxygen saturation and heart rate, a move that could improve the lives of hospitalised patients and the elderly. The multi sensor armband, which is worn on the wrist, has been developed as part of the Body Area Network (BAN) project, described by the Fraunhofer Institute as "a key foundation for the use of telemedicine applications". The BAN project is supported by the German Ministry for Education and Research.

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The device's key innovation is its use of wireless communication channels to transmit an individual's health data, allowing them to move around whether at home or in the hospital. Such freedom not only improves a patient's quality of life, but could also speed their recovery. Furthermore, by reducing the length of hospital stays and examination times, the monitor could also lower the costs associated with professional health care.

A patient's data is transmitted in two stages to ensure its reliability. First, information is sent from the wristband to a base station either worn on a belt or integrated into the device itself. In the next stage, the data is then forwarded from the base station to a gateway computer in the patient's home and on to the physician or hospital.

Doctors can choose to receive medical data using the device of their choice, from standard PCs to notebooks, mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs). Automatic encryption is employed so as to ensure that sensitive data remains confidential, and that only authorised personnel are able to access it.

In the future, the BAN project could take this technology one step further, explains team member René Dünkler: "A longer term aim is the coupling of sensors and actuators. A glucose sensor monitors a patient's blood sugar level and transmits the data to the monitoring station. If the value is too low, the monitoring station sends a signal to an implanted insulin pump to administer more insulin." Another scenario could involve the monitoring station automatically contacting the patient's doctor for a phone consultation.

Finally, the BAN team explains that the wristbands will not only be beneficial for the sick or elderly. Amateur and professional sportspeople will also be able to monitor their vital signs while training, allowing exercise programmes to be adjusted to individual measurement values.


Leslie Versweyveld

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