E-health to cure the world's ills?

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In challenging times, when the economy is under stress, and when we face significant challenges such as an aging population and an energy crunch, modernisation is becoming an increasingly important way to counter new obstacles. Many sectors are striving to modernise their operations, and nowhere is this more evident than in the health industry.
 
Across the developed world, health organisations are moving away from paper-based systems into electronic ones, in which patient records are held digitally, rather than in conventional physical files. The operational benefits to such systems are immense. Medical records can be sent between locations quickly and seamlessly, which means that people who suffer from medical problems while travelling can be properly cared for at clinics en route by health workers with full access to their medical background.
 
However, this is only the beginning of a much broader revolution which will involve the creation of machine-to-machine (M2M) systems to drive further efficiencies into the healthcare ecosystem. Sensors, which are already being used to monitor environmental conditions in some cities, will be deployed in ways that will enable remote monitoring systems to keep tabs on human health.
 
These sensors will take two forms. Ambient sensors will be able to monitor peoples' health based on their behaviour. A sensor that picks up water movement, for example, can monitor whether someone uses the bathroom or runs the shower, to tell if they are up and following their daily routine. Motion sensors in rooms can tell that people are mobile. Such sensors and the processing software with which they communicate will become increasingly intelligent. They will be able to monitor how familiar phone numbers are dialled, for example, to see how often the dialler gets them wrong, and may measure footfalls to see how people are walking, or how often and how frequently they return to a room. This could help software to draw conclusions about a person's mental state, warning remote healthcare staff about dementia symptoms.
 
The second class of sensors will directly measure the body. Vital signs measurements include heartbeat, blood pressure, temperature, and even breathing uninvasively, which could give remove medical workers extra clues about a person's health.
 
Such systems, powered by wireless communications networks, are already in the labs and being deployed in some areas by commercial organisations. Their potential to introduce even greater operational efficiencies into the healthcare world is huge. Suddenly, patients that may have had to be kept in permanent facilities could be cared for at home. Sensor-based systems could dramatically reduce the need to visit daycare clinics for routine checkups, improving the quality of life for patients, and reducing the financial burden on the system.
 
At the Orange Business Live conference in Amsterdam from 15-17 June, Orange Business Services will be discussing these and other technologies that will revolutionise healthcare.

 

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.