RFID Has its Finger on the Pulse

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 08, 2010 @ 02:00 PM

Tracking Body Movements for a Picture of Health

Wireless StethoscopeI just read an article about how smartphones will soon replace the stethoscope. The goal of using more connected wireless devices in healthcare?  To keep more of us healthy and out of the hospital – OK by me. 

A similar idea is to use technology to monitor body movement. When you have an annual physical or see a doctor for something specific like weight loss, they have to rely on your answers to track your physical activity. They usually ask questions like: Are you active? How many times a week do you exercise? How far do you walk? We’ve all been in the patient’s shoes before and we know how easy it is to embellish a little, not just to satisfy the doctor, but so we can somehow make it come true by saying so.

Doctors can try to have the patients wear a small pedometer when going about their daily routine, but that only provides a one dimensional measurement that cannot satisfy the need for a full picture of activity. Pedometers can’t monitor smaller body movements, or the position of the body, which could offer more information about a person’s health and well being; like noting the difference between sitting in a chair and sitting on an exercise ball that forces you to engage your torso muscles.  

In an effort to get around this roadblock, researchers at Michigan State University developed a system using three RFID tags that are affixed to a person's upper arm, wrist and ankle. The tags contain proximity sensors and accelerometers, which allow the software to calculate the exact amount of movement and angle of a person's limbs. Each tag comes with an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) 900 MHz EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay and a battery to transmit information. By pinpointing the tags’ locations in relationship to each other, as well as noting the changing angles and the number of movements, the doctor can derive a much better picture of the patient’s health because he knows the amount of energy being expended during certain intervals.

The data that is captured can then be linked to the patient's ID number and stored for tracking and management purposes. So, if you’re seeing a doctor for weight management or a physical therapist for an injury, they can compare and contrast the data from one office visit to the next. For a big picture, they can put that data up against other health measurements such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI (body mass index) to make sound prognoses and more customized counsel. Nutritionists and personal trainers can also use that energy data to better customize their services.

While the research hasn’t turned into a mainstream product yet, the potential for reducing health care costs seems fairly apparent. Fewer people getting hurt just by going to the gym and trying something new, fewer illnesses resulting from obesity, fewer medications needed to help the heart do its job…you get the picture.

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Smartphones

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