The New Era of Healthcare Technology

Dec. 3, 2009

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – December 1, 2009 – Technology innovation is a leading driver in making any industry prosper.  According to IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association, this rings true especially in the field of healthcare.  With over $27 billon spent each year in healthcare research and development globally, technology is playing an increasingly larger role in changing the way we prevent, diagnose and treat patients.

Technology has been utilized in healthcare on several fronts, from electronic patient medical records and monitors within the operating room, to the newer fields of telemedicine and robotic surgery and now wearable monitoring devices. This year, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), through a grant from the National Science Foundation, held workshops to create the CCC Robotics Roadmap, which identifies the future impact of robotics technology on the economic, social, and security needs of the nation, outlines the various scientific and technological challenges, and documents required R&D to address these challenges[1].  The workshops, which focused on the healthcare market, were led by Maja Mataric, IEEE senior member and professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics at University of Southern California, Allison M. Okamura, IEEE senior member and professor of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and Henrik Christensen, IEEE senior member and KUKA Chair of Robotics at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology.  One topic the group focused on was how sensors and wearable devices will impact the future of healthcare. 

The group’s roadmap includes the following projections:

  • In five years, a variety of wearable devices should interface wirelessly with assistive robots.
  • In 10 years, smaller-scale and lighter-weight wireless wearable sensors providing a range of physiologic data should be available to detect and classify, as well as to some degree, predict user physiologic state such as heart rate or blood oxygen or glucose level.
  • In 15 years, off-the-shelf wireless physiologic sensing devices should be interoperable with computer- and robot-based coaching systems to facilitate bio-feedback and other forms of feedback to the user for facilitating sophisticated human-robot, and more generally, human-machine interaction.

“One of the most important factors driving the research and application of sensors and wearable devices is the worldwide aging population, which will rise dramatically in the next two decades,” said Henrik Christensen, IEEE senior member. “There will be a huge demand for technologies that will help enhance this population’s quality of life, in ways like allowing them to remain in their homes while still getting the care and monitoring they need.”

ABI Research, a market intelligence company specializing in emerging technologies, predicts that by 2014, there will be 400 million wireless sensors in the market. 

“These are very early days for wearable wireless sensors in the healthcare market, but a number of factors are coming together to support strong growth over the next five years,” principal ABI analyst Jonathan Collins stated in a company press release earlier this year. “Technology and product development, wireless protocol standardization, and the potential already seen in sports and fitness monitoring will help drive investment in the healthcare market.” (Market for Wearable Wireless Sensors to Grow to More than 400 Million Devices by 2014, July 2009)

IEEE member and director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Paolo Bonato is one of the many IEEE members driving this innovation forward.  Dr. Bonato and his team have been studying the use of wearable sensors to detect epileptic seizures, to assess motor recovery in stroke survivors, to detect exacerbation episodes in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and to monitor many other clinical conditions. More recently, Dr. Bonato has done extensive work using wearable sensors to facilitate the titration of medications in patients suffering from late stage Parkinson’s disease. 

“The initial results presented in our study provide encouraging evidence for the potential of wearable sensors,” commented Dr. Bonato. “Additionally, this research can be used as the foundation for wearable sensor research in a variety of other areas within healthcare such as monitoring chronic disease and rehabilitation – the end goal being better prevention, detection and treatment for all of the world’s citizens.”

[1] You can review the full report at:

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