Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mobile Health Research

Clinical researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are combining innovative technologies to prevent and treat drug abuse. The researchers studying emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, smartphone programming, biosensors, and wireless connectivity have designed a device that will detect physiological stressors associated with drug cravings.

According to the preliminary data from the research study published online in the “Journal of Medical Toxicology”, many behavioral interventions used to treat patients are ineffective outside of controlled clinical settings where they are taught. This failure can be attributed to the patient’s inability to recognize biological changes that indicate increased risk of relapse and an inability to change their behaviors to reduce health risks.

Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, Professor of Emergency Medicine and lead author of the study worked with his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and MIT to design a mobile device equipped with enabling technologies that will make behavioral interventions to treat substance abusers more effective outside the clinic or office environment.

The device called “iHeal” combines sensors to measure physiological changes and is able to detect trigger points for risky health behaviors such as substance abuse using Smartphone software that will respond with patient-specific interventions.

Individuals with a history of substance abuse and PTSD were asked to wear an “iHeal” sensor band around their wrist to measure the electrical activity of the skin, body motion, skin temperature, and heart rate. This information wirelessly transmits information to a Smartphone where software applications monitor and process the user’s physiological data.

When the software detects an increased stress level, it asks the user to input information on their perceived stress level, drug cravings, and current activities. This information is used to identify in real-time drug cravings and then deliver personalized multi-media interventions precisely at the moment of greatest physiological need.

In another development in Massachusetts, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) a research group developing mobile smart applications has established the Healthcare Delivery Institute (HDI). The plan is to bring together engineering, science, and business to help solve problems on delivering high quality healthcare for a growing aging population.

HDI’s areas of expertise will develop mobile and wireless smart applications, study the adoption and impact of health IT systems, model and redesign the way healthcare is delivered, and mine the digital data now generated by systems.

HDI has approximately $4 million in current funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Veterans Administration’s New England Healthcare System. Last fall, NSF awarded WPI $1.2 million to develop a Smartphone application to help people with advanced diabetes and foot ulcers to better manage their disease. The HDI faculty will work on the four year project in collaboration with diabetes and wound care specialists at UMass Medical School.

For more information on HDI, go to