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Remote monitoring of health conditions

IBM researchers, working with medical device manufacturers and mobile phone handset manufacturers, have created a unique solution to track vital health signs.

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Zurich, Switzerland - 12 Nov 2003: The IBM technology, if adopted, could help limit a patient's health risk, increase his or her comfort level, reduce the number of checkups as well as time spent in hospital and enhance the effectiveness of pharmaceutical field tests. The solution includes a compliance device (pill box) and a home-based blood pressure monitor that resembles a large wrist watch.

The new prototypes build on existing devices available today through specialist suppliers and diagnostics companies. The enhancements make it possible for the devices to transmit secure, untampered patient data through a mobile phone to an Internet portal and to the doctors and nurses monitoring the patient.

The wristband blood pressure monitoring device, that can also check other vital signs such as heart rate, is activated by simply pressing a button. Blood pressure readings, for example, are gathered from one or more sensors via Bluetooth short-range radio connection. Once transmitted, secure access ensures only authorized medical personnel see the patient's data. If an unusual reading comes through, either a reminder can be sent to the patient to take his or her medication or a new prescription can be issued, depending on the doctor's diagnosis.

The "pill box" helps keep track of the patient's medication by sending a signal to his or her mobile phone every time a pill is removed. If a patient forgets to take medication or is taking too many pills, he or she is sent a reminder via mobile phone to follow the prescribed doses.

It is expected that both these solutions will help reduce the need for patients to visit the doctor and increase patient's mobility since vital measurements are readily available and monitored on-the-go. Regular and frequent monitoring can also bring peace of mind to people with chronic illnesses or those recovering from an operation. The solutions are already of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry, which will be able to conduct field trials of new drugs more accurately.

These solutions are examples of how information technology can be used to deliver medical information in real time to help the medical profession and the health industry improve the quality of patient care in the emerging field of information-based medicine.

The market for medical electronics is growing rapidly as OEMs in the medical sector turn to ever-more-sophisticated solutions for the identification and treatment of illnesses and the ongoing delivery of patient care. One emerging trend is the move toward more portable equipment and implantable devices.

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, Medical Development Market Outlook for 2003, the worldwide market for what it calls cardiac rhythm management devices alone is currently worth $5.1 billion annually and is growing about 10 percent per year. In addition, the European Medical Technology Industry Association says medical devices have become a major sector in health care, both in terms of markets, of public expenditure and impact on health. The association says these devices represent, in Europe alone, 26 percent of worldwide sales, estimated at roughly $40 billion.

Product designers from IBM Engineering & Technology Services have teamed with scientists from IBM's research lab in Zurich, Switzerland, and technologists from IBM's development laboratory, in Hursley, England, to develop this solution. The technology could be integrated into any number of devices for monitoring other vital signals such as blood sugar level and weight.

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