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The appliance of science

Dr Philip Catherwood

Fans of the original Star Trek sci-fi series will recall Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy using a handheld scanning device to instantly diagnose medical conditions. Back in the 1960s, the Medical Tricorder was simply the stuff of fantasy. Today, similar technology is a reality and its development is happening right on our doorstep, led by Professor James McLaughlin OBE. Ulster University lecturer, Dr Philip Catherwood, who heads up the Internet of Medical Things team seeking next-generation patient-centric healthcare solutions, tells us about some recent developments.

Increasing hospital waiting lists, healthcare budget reductions, an increase in patients with multiple chronic illnesses and an ageing population means our National Health Service has had to seek innovative solutions outside the traditional areas of expertise.

One of these solutions is to use advances in technology to support service users to carry out a wide range of activities in their own home instead of admitting them into hospital, enabling them to live independently and age well.

Research teams at Ulster University’s Nanotechnology and Integrated BioEngineering Centre (NIBEC) are working with medical device manufacturers, leading healthcare consultants and patients in Northern Ireland to investigate how emerging technologies can be exploited to promote effective patient-centric healthcare.

A key area of Ulster’s investigation is the fledgling Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). This term covers a wide branch of technologies that use everyday wireless technologies, such as the mobile phone network, WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as the more obscure technologies.

Thousands of people in the UK alone already wear a wristband that records an individual’s daily rates of exercise, calorie consumption, weight and sleep.

Apps are already being developed along these lines that would enable similar information to be monitored remotely by doctors.

These wireless solutions can be used to connect in-patient monitors to a hospital’s central system, link a domiciliary-based heart monitor to a consultant’s PC or interconnect multiple monitors on a patient to ensure synchronised data collection for automated analysis.

Such technology can speed up the time to obtain a correct diagnosis, reduce the potential for clerical error and the risk of cross-contamination/ infection, and make it a far better experience overall for the patient.

The knowledge and expertise that is currently being developed at Ulster University is being passed on to leading industries to facilitate the development of pioneering, cost-effective solutions for future patient care.

IoMT could enable a new generation of patient-centric, wearable monitors and change how healthcare is currently delivered.

At the heart of all this work lies a passion for people - because each one of us is a beneficiary of the NHS system and anything that technology can do to raise standards of provision is a target worth aiming for.

What sort of wireless healthcare technology would you like to see in future?

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Paul Zink 18 Aug 2017 12:11

While there are obvious benefits to be derived from IoMT, should we be pausing a while to question to what extent WiFi and other electronic technologies with which we are being bombarded are actually damaging our health and adding to the burden on the NHS? Should we be asking whether there is in fact a direct correlation between the recent increase in WiFi driven technology and the escalation in mental illness, ADHD, dementia as well as various physical illnesses? There is much evidence to suggest there is. Electro hypersensitivity (EHS) is emerging as a seriously isolating and debilitating, yet unrecognised, health condition from which there is no escape for victims in our modern electronic world. As part of a growing number of EHS sufferers, who have to strictly avoid all heavy WiFi exposure, any future NHS WiFi technology is not an optionH.