On the technology side, the issues focus on data handling and interpretation. And while for purposes of the experiment an apartment has been set up in the hospital, the plan is eventually to install sensors in seniors' homes throughout the region and use high-speed Internet connections to send the data to a central monitoring location. "These sensors create a loss of data," Dean Goubran says. "We had to decide what data to analyze close to the sensors, and what to send over the network. And we had to figure out how to make sense out of all that data."
Another issue is who interprets the data. As much as of the interpretation as possible needs to be automated, but ultimately human beings, probably nurses, will need to monitor the patients. Then those people need to be able to reach the appropriate doctors, nurses and family members for each individual. The who, what and where questions have yet to be answered.
The team is working with several vendors in the computer and medical areas. "I was particularly happy to find that Nortel was very interested in this project," Dean Goubran says. Nortel is working to build the communication solution that will allow the information from the sensor systems to be communicated to the people that need to be aware. Its approach is a multimedia communications solution allowing people to be reached on their device(s) of choice (computer, PDA, cell phone, etc.), on the access network of choice (cellular, Wi-Fi, wired, etc.) and in the format of their choice (e-mail, IM, voice, XML, etc).
Dean Goubran emphasizes however, that the focus of the study is on using the technology rather than developing it. "Some attempts at similar projects have been done solely by technicians," he says. "That is the wrong approach. The most important thing we have learned is that to do this right you need a team that includes medical personnel, technical people and the patients, themselves. And then you have to promote a great deal of communication among those groups. When we do that we find that what we think is the answer to a problem may not be what the medical people need, and sometimes the answer is much simpler than we expect."
Bert Latamore is a journalist with 10 years' experience in daily newspapers and 25 in the computer industry. He has written for several computer industry and consumer publications. He lives in Linden, Va., with his wife, two parrots and a cat.