Emerging Trends in Smart Healthcare Technology
This blogpost discusses the recent and emerging trends in smart healthcare. With the advent of technology and pervasiveness of the data generating and processing devices, such as computers, laptops, smartphones, and smart watches etc., the traditional healthcare practices are undergoing a paradigm shift. Moreover, the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Body Area Networks (BAN) and their successful application in the healthcare sector has also paced up the adoption of smart healthcare concept. As a result, the healthcare sector has advanced from the conventional clinical settings to telemedicine, mHealth or mobile health, remote monitoring and home monitoring through wearable devices.
With the rise of the smart healthcare phenomenon, the patients are no longer required to visit the hospitals and clinics to seek advice from the General Physicians (GPs) and medical specialists. Instead, health information technology has made the remote interactions of patients and doctors possible. This not only helps in reducing the unnecessary travelling costs for patients but also saves significant amount of time. Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries have started the telemedicine services for Out-Patient Department (OPD) and consultation services to minimize the hospital visits and to ensure the social distancing.
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Remote Monitoring Services
Likewise, the remote monitoring services have incredibly transformed the healthcare delivery services and now the doctors or nurses can monitor the patients remotely even when the patients are at their homes. For example, by observing the vital signs like blood pressure, pulse rate, oxygen level and heart rate etc. remotely, the doctors or medical staff can suggest appropriate interventions to cater the situation. Remote patient monitoring also minimizes the number of admissions at hospitals because the patients that are not much critical but require certain monitoring can be treated at homes and their monitoring can be performed through the smart devices remotely.
Fall Detection in Elderly
Another application where technology is facilitating the healthcare domain is the identification of falls in senior or elderly citizens. Falls are critical events among the elderly living alone in their rooms or walking outside unaccompanied by the family members or attendants. The falls can have intense consequence, such as severe injuries and deaths in some cases as well. Several techniques and methods have been proposed to detect the fall events. For example, recently, Philips has developed a fall detection technology called AutoAlert that with the help of accelerometers and barometric sensors, detects the fall events. After a fall event is detected, the response center is automatically notified for rescue and emergency services. Similarly, wrist bands, smart pendants and smart watches equipped with the sensors are also being used for fall detection extensively. The effectiveness of these measures in terms of accurately identifying the fall events and distinguishing the accidental falls with the normal falls is still uncertain in some situations. However, it is anticipated that the ongoing research efforts in this regard will definitely yield more practical and resilient solutions.
Human Activity Recognition
Human activity recognition with the help of body sensors has also attracted the attention of the researchers recently. Identifying human activities correctly is extremely critical in the healthcare because various later medical interventions or their consequences depend upon the accurate recognition. Several techniques have been proposed to recognize the human activities. For example, accelerometer and smartphone-based solutions in conjunction with the machine learning approaches for human activity recognition have been developed. However, the task of action recognition entails some challenges too. For example, the incorrect placement of sensors on human body also affects the recognition accuracy.
Support for Mobility Impaired People
Besides the aforementioned, significant developments have been observed in empowering the mobility impaired people by using the smart technologies. The mobility impaired people find it a serious problem to move freely particularly in the outdoor environment. In this regard, several mobile applications have been developed that help such people find the better routes, for example barrier free routes from one point to another. Consequently, using these smartphone applications, people with disabilities can move around using their wheelchair by following the appropriate paths. Similarly, mobile applications to facilitate the visually impaired or low vision people have also been developed. For example, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is being used to read text for the blind people when it is brought in front of camera. Also this technology provides the audio guidance in performing certain tasks, for example printing etc.
Smart Fabrics / Smart Textiles
Smart textiles or smart fabrics is a pretty newer research area and has wide applications in the healthcare domain. Recently, the socks called Neurofabric to pre-identify the diabetic foot ulcers have been developed. The socks are made of the fabric whose inner side contains microsensors. The socks monitor the temperature of the feet and thus the people are informed of the possible inflammation that possibly might lead to diabetic foot ulcers. Timely actions definitely can help diabetic people avoid further problems through the smart fabrics. Similarly, smart clothing helps patients or people adopt the healthy habits. The smart cloths equipped with the microsensor acquire various physiological signals from the human body. As a result, people can take care of their diet, daily habits, and health status.
Recently, mobile health or mHealth has surfaced as another promising model for the provision of healthcare services through mobile devices. Using the mobile devices, people can now monitor their several signs, for example heart rate and exercise etc. and take measures accordingly. Thousands of mobile applications to monitor several diseases, for example diabetes and other chronic diseases, and to control obesity have been developed. Moreover, several of the developed applications are now being integrated with the electronic health record and personal health record systems. Accordingly, the patients have the better picture of their health and can have better control over their health. Some popular such applications include, GoogleFit, Samsung Health, Fitbit etc.
There are several other applications where pervasive healthcare delivery services are playing their part. Interestingly, the leading market players like IBM, Cisco, and Siemens Healthcare are investing heavily in providing technology assisted healthcare services. It is anticipated that through the collective efforts of all the above-mentioned tech leaders, the healthcare domain will witness a true transformation soon.
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