Healthcare benefits In most cases, patients have recovered more quickly from robotic than conventional surgery. Patient expenses were lower because they left the hospital sooner.
According to Cobb, surgeons can rely on the technology to operate precisely, with small incisions. Improving surgical accuracy improves patient outcomes—replacements work better and last longer—and could eliminate the need for additional operations.
Another outcome is that the technology makes knee replacement surgery less complicated, making it possible for less skilled surgeons to be very good at it—so it's ultimately less expensive. "When you 'deskill' something, you make it cheaper," says Cobb.
Pluto mote. One of the smallest motes is Pluto, a lightweight device that can be worn like a wristwatch. Patients can wear several Pluto motes to monitor such things as heart rate and respiration, explains Welsh. These sensors capture the data and upload it to a PDA, laptop, or PC residing in the patient's home.
The Pluto mote integrates the same components found in larger sensors (microprocessor, memory, battery, and so on) onto a single circuit board, saving size and space. Other space savers include a lightweight rechargeable battery and a surface mount antenna.
The Pluto mote employs an integrated three-axis accelerometer (used in motion studies). "We are working with a group at the Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital, studying patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Parkinson's disease, and stroke," says Welsh. In those applications, researchers look at patient limb movements during various activities. With Parkinson's disease, for example, one complication is tremors, in which the patient is afflicted with unexpected and uncontrollable limb movement. "Some of this is caused by the disease and some is a side effect of the medication that is intended to control it," says Welsh. Pluto motes can help researchers monitor limb movement in order to better predict tremor episodes and adjust medication dosages to head them off.
Vital Dust mote. The Vital Dust mote-based pulse oximeter uses GPS to track a patient's location en route to the hospital while continuously monitoring heart rate and blood oxygen saturation.
Sensors record vital signs in real time and pass them to a sensor gateway on the ambulance, which forwards the data to the hospital using either a cellular EVDO ( evolution data optimized) connection or an Iridium satellite connection. If the Vital Dust hardware can't connect to the gateway immediately, it can store the data in onboard memory until it can, so that nothing is lost, says Steven Moulton, associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine.
In emergency response situations, such pervasive medical devices provide emergency room doctors with information about the number of incoming patients and their vital signs in advance. This helps them better prepare for the patient's arrival.
Kidney failure pilot. At the Imperial College in London, IBM is combining its mobile health monitoring with Bluetooth-enabled scales and blood pressure cuffs from A&D Medical to monitor young adults and children with kidney failure. According to Schweda, these devices monitor patient blood pressure and weight to manage their fluid levels. The data, received by an Ericsson smart phone, is transmitted to a backend server, which makes the information available to medical professionals at hand. Nurses can monitor many more children at one time, checking the transmitted data for trends such as weight gain, rising blood pressure, and rising heart rate and alerting a physician when a patient needs attention.
These monitoring tools can also help improve the patients' quality of life. "They can avoid coming in to see their primary care physician or coming in for dialysis earlier," says Schweda.
Diabetic monitoring. IBM's Personal Care Connect technology also has a pilot project to monitor diabetic patients. Using Johnson & Johnson's Lifescan glucose meter as the end device gives patients access to a very small, portable device for testing their blood sugar levels that can report the results to healthcare providers. The devices offer another long-term benefit, by providing closer blood sugar monitoring. This helps those monitored correct elevated levels more quickly and delay amputations, according to Schweda. This technology also lets doctors see graphs of the device readings, providing a better idea of how the data varies over time and what it looks like over long periods, says Maria Ebling, research manager of privacy-enabled context technologies at IBM.