Wireless communication for remote physiological data monitoring

Amsterdam 22 April 1998 In 1997, Hong Kong has spent 107 million dollars on wireless communication facilities and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a telemedicine network has been set up, through which a link can be established between Beijing and Shangai. Dr. Zhang Yuan Ting confronted the ITIS attendants with the amazing development of telemedical implementation in Asia. In fact, telemedicine could be described as telecommunications applied in medicine. He rather speaks of electronic technology however, as not to scare politicians off. In Hong Kong as much as elsewhere, the acquisition of the necessary funding constitutes a delicate issue.

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In 1997, Hong Kong has spent 107 million dollars on wireless communication facilities and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a telemedicine network has been set up, through which a link can be established between Beijing and Shangai. Dr. Zhang Yuan Ting confronted the ITIS attendants with the amazing development of telemedical implementation in Asia. In fact, telemedicine could be described as telecommunications applied in medicine. He rather speaks of electronic technology however, as not to scare politicians off. In Hong Kong as much as elsewhere, the acquisition of the necessary funding constitutes a delicate issue.

A true multimedia telemedicine system enables transmission of images, video, audio, graphics, text, as well as physiological data. Today, few commercial systems are equipped for physiological data transfer. This is a bit of a shame because first of all, telemedicine largely improves the general quality of health care while reducing costs at the same time. It offers the opportunity to share medical data between different cities and makes home monitoring possible. Urban hospitals can perform frequent medical teleconsultation. Troops in battle fields as well as rural areas obtain more adequate support and help. Medical telecommunication even constitutes a wonderful means for educational purposes.

From the technical point of view, you need a lot of bandwidth capacity. Ordinary telephone lines offer speeds between 28 Kb/s and 36 Kb/s. Ethernet allows data transfer at 100 Mb/s and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) raises information travel up to 155 Mb/s. All these different options are currently available in Hong Kong. Therefore, the team of Dr. Zhang Yuan Ting has set up a telemedicine project with one of the biggest hospitals in China, located in Beijing. The result has deeply impressed the Chinese people. However, the costs of such an initiative are enormous whereas the population in isolated rural regions still was not being served.

Consequently, it has been decided to organise telemedical services in a multi-level structure, covering regional, metropolitan, hospital, as well as home care needs. Initially, the team started with an experiment relating to tele home care and consisting of a technically simple system with data compression. The patient at home wears a device on the body. In case of emergency, the hospital service is being alarmed via the telephone receiver. Wireless contact is being established between the medical facility and the ambulance services. The system has to work 24 hours a day to detect any abnormality at the patient's home. The receivers are being digitised at the moment to optimise transmission.

Also tele-ultrasound is being used because it provides real time data transmission at low cost. In fact, the team prefers this method to PET, CT and MRI since it enables interactive visualisation in specific tele home care environments. The researchers aim at developing still smaller patient devices. In the future, transistors will be implanted in the stomach, allowing to execute internal patient examination from a distance. Data compression will remain a primary concern, considering the extent of the Chinese population.


Leslie Versweyveld

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