A wireless personal health monitoring system using smartphones to upload data via the Internet will revolutionize the U.S. healthcare industry, its pioneering creators say.
mHealth research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville is lead by Dr. Emil Jovanov, associate dean for graduate education and research in the College of Engineering, and Dr. Aleksandar Milenkovic, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. They have recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop mHealth infrastructure at UAHuntsville.
mHealth capitalizes on what Dr. Jovanov calls “major revolutions” in computer informatics, smartphones, and energy-efficient and miniaturized electronics and sensors. It can provide health information to the patient directly, to the physician via the Internet, and to researchers as aggregated databases. View the mHealth website athttp://portal.mhealth.uah.edu/public/index.php.
In 2000, Dr. Jovanov was the first to propose Wireless Body Area Networks (WBAN) for health monitoring as a sensor system to integrate sensors on or in bodies and communicate through the Internet. (E. Jovanov, J. Price, D. Raskovic, K. Kavi, T. Martin, R. Adhami, “Wireless Personal Area Networks in Telemedical Environment,” Third IEEE EMBS Information Technology Applications in Biomedicine – Workshop of the International Telemedical Information Society ITAB?ITIS 2000, Arlington, Va., November 2000, pp. 22-27).
“When WBAN is used to monitor diabetes patients using an implanted blood glucose sensor and insulin pump, the system can determine how much insulin should be released, not only based on the blood glucose level, but based on the level of activity and condition of the whole organism,” said Dr. Jovanov. “This is a fundamentally different approach made possible by the advances in technology, and we are proud that the first paper on it came from UAH.”
Dr. Jovanov said the idea sprang from the Personal Area Network used in wireless computing. “We proposed creating a personal health monitoring network within 2-3 feet from your body integrating a number of sensors to monitor your vital signs and physical activity.” Individual sensors are controlled by a smartphone that collects information from sensors and communicates with the rest of the system.
From left, Dr. Aleksandar Milenkovic, doctoral student and graduate assistant Mladen Milosevic and Dr. Emil Jovanov demonstrate one mHealth technology. The program developed at UA Huntsville uses the sensors in smart phones to monitor wheelchair use.
In collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, the researchers developed the first successful prototypes. “We were the first to demonstrate that you can create a system that is a very powerful, energy efficient and comfortable that you can wear a long time,” said Dr. Jovanov.
Since then, size and weight have shrunk and sensor and communication technologies have advanced. “It is ubiquitous wireless communication anytime, anywhere that has brought tremendous change and will improve our lifestyles tremendously in the future,” Dr. Jovanov said, citing two examples where mHealth could help.
“The more you exercise, the better you recover after a stroke, but you also can overdo it,” he said. “The smartphone-based application can motivate users to exercise more, or warn them if they are straining themselves.
“Now in heart attack, the recovery rate also depends on exercise, but often people are worried about that because they have been through this traumatic event and they don’t want to get too far away from the phone or help or they are afraid to be active again,” he continued. The mHealth system alleviates fears by its ability to detect trouble and summon help. It also can advise the heart patient when he or she is at the optimal exercise level.