Italian researchers to develop and test wireless patient monitoring system

Milan 15 June 2004Researchers, who have written an article in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2004, 4:7, have developed and tested a wireless patient monitoring system that could help detect patient suffering at a distance. Keeping up-to-date with a patient's condition once they have left hospital can help doctors to "detect patient suffering earlier and to activate a well-timed intervention".

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Researchers from Reply-planeT, an Italian company that offers integrated communication services, and Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan, write: "The wide and growing use of mobile phones and the Internet by the general population provides important new methods for communication between doctor and patient." Their Wireless Health Outcomes Monitoring System (WHOMS) could reduce the need to use printed questionnaires in monitoring the health and quality of life of patients, which should make such doctor-patient communication easier.

The system allows physicians to send short questionnaires to patients' mobile phones. Patients can answer the questions using their phone keypad and then return the completed form to the physicians without leaving their chair. The results are collated automatically and presented to physicians on a secure Web page. The graphic display of the patients' information gives doctors a quick overview of how the patients' symptoms are evolving. If any patient has seriously modified symptoms, a flashing light will appear by their name. This should help doctors to prioritise those in serious need.

To test whether this system would work in practice, the researchers asked all 97 cancer inpatients from the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Milan, with the exception of those who had just had surgery and those who had visible physical impairments, to fill in a short survey using their mobile phone. All the patients that attempted to complete the ten-question survey about their state of health did so successfully using their mobile phone. "This confirmed the user-friendliness of the system for people familiar with modern communication technologies", according to the researchers.

Of the 97 patients, 56 or 58 percent attempted the questionnaire, and all of these 56 completed it. Only 6 percent of the total number of questions were left unanswered by patients. However, 42 percent of those asked refused to participate, mostly due to inexperience with using mobile phones. This was a larger percentage than the researchers were expecting, but they hope that this figure might be reduced if a patient could get help from their family, or if other channels of communication, such as the Internet, were incorporated into the system.

"We are currently introducing modifications aimed at improving the system", the researchers state in their article. "In particular we are investigating multi-channel approaches so that we can offer WHOMS functions through palm computers and interactive voice responders to provide a better interface and a wider choice for patients. These are the first steps required in the process of seeking to apply this system to standard clinical practice. The next steps are to demonstrate the system's usefulness for patients and/or providers, and to demonstrate provider acceptance and use of the system."

The article in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making is titled "A wireless health outcomes monitoring system (WHOMS): development and field testing with cancer patients using mobile phones", written by Emilia Bielli, Fabio Carminati, Stella La Capra, Micaela Lina, Cinzia Brunelli, Marcello Tamburini. A demonstration of how the survey works can be accessed at the WHOMS Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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