WiFi Device Could Take Health Care Home

As Houston gets ready for what could be one of the largest urban wireless internet networks in the nation, local researchers say they're testing ways to use wifi connections to monitor heart patients with chronic conditions in their homes. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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Dr. Clifford Dacso is the executive director of the Abramson Center for the Future of Health of the University of Houston and the Methodist Hospital. He's holding what looks like a blue GameBoy.

"You put your thumbs on the electrodes on the top and then your index fingers over the detectors at the end and then after the electronics settle down, it will give you a reading of your heart function."

It's the first generation of a biomedical measurement device that Dacso and researchers at Rice University hope will tap into the power of wi-fi networks to change the face of chronic health care. They're working together in the Pecan Park neighborhood in southeast Houston, using what's known as a mesh wireless network.

"This particular Blue Box is designed for helping patients with chronic congestive heart failure, which is a disease state where the heart is not strong enough to meet the demands of the body and needs to be treated. We're using this device to help people monitor their own cardiac status and get early warning of when deterioration is about to happen."

Using the wireless connection, patients are able to use the feedback from the device to determine if they need immediate medical care.

"It will establish an individuals personal normal of their heart function and because it's non-invasive and very easy to use, we anticipate people will be testing their heart function five or six times a day. It only takes thirty seconds to get a reading."

If a patient's condition gets to a certain point, doctors on the other end of the wi-fi information loop would intervene and recommend treatment. Researchers are in the early stages of establishing normals and hope to test the device in the Pecan Park neighborhood late this summer. Dacso says the internet is full of potential for changing how healthcare is delivered.

"The whole idea of distributed health care, that is, putting healthcare in the situation, in the location where it is needed and when it is needed is something that the internet promises us that we've just never had before. Never even been able to imagine before."

Dacso says if researchers can figure out ways to keep people with chronic conditions out of emergency rooms, everyone benefits.

"Our goal is to take chronic disease, which is the vast majority of adult illness in our community, and move it from the acute care medical setting into the home where it is most legitimately managed."

You can find out more about the Blue Box device through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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