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You are here: MEDICA Portal. Part V: Information Technology. Germany.

Bits and Bytes in Doctors's Robes (Part 1)

Bits and Bytes in Doctors's Robes (Part 1)

The transitions due to the IT revolution are already slowly coming to an end, though – at least when believing in the theories of the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, who observed the great periods in economic development. His theory: There are circles lasting 40 to 60 years that are being determined by great inventions – let it be steam engine, railway, petrol chemistry. Or the PC - even though this invention was not part of Kondratieff's life anymore who died in the 30s of the last century. However, the Russian has described a mechanism that seems to repeat itself over and over again: Prototypes are being invented that turn into high tech products only being used and bought by an elite. A sign that the circle gets towards its end is when the masses are able to buy these products, too because of reasonable pricing rendering the technology available to everyone.

Taking a look at present times, we really observe it: IT is being used by hundreds of million users worldwide today. This includes computer games as well as Internet chats but also applications serving the health of humans such as the telemedicine. This technology will soon connect experts and make diagnostic results available to all physicians. Telemedicine can also help to take care of heart and diabetes patients from the distance. Telematic signal transduction from the patient to the doctor is often already routinely used in order to one day help all of those one to two percent of Germans suffering from chronic heart disease and arrhythmias. Important data such as blood pressure and weight can be measured at home by the patient and be transferred right onto the doctor's PC in the practice. In the case of irregularities or signs of danger the doctor can intervene straight away.

This is a principal that could save older men and women being moved into old people's homes in future. The computer scientist Reiner Wichert supports this idea and is the speaker of the Fraunhofer Alliance Ambient Assisted Living (AAL). His vision is that one day sensors and systems give seniors a helping hand in their own home by measuring, monitoring and raising alarms if necessary. „With the help of these systems we will be informed when a flat's inhabitant fell down and helplessly lies on the floor“, Wichert explains. Either because sensors incorporated in the floor constantly measure how much space is being covered and recognize the shape of a body or because an acceleration sensor realizes a downward movement that occurred too fast to mean something good. That then means “falling alarm” and an ambulance could arrive as quickly as possible.

Photo: A network cable
Get networked - for the sake of human health; ©

The systems are not only useful in helping during emergency situations. They can also be put into use for the prevention of accidents. For example, by switching on the lights automatically when noticing that somebody got out of bed or by raising a sound that reminds the inhabitant upon leaving the flat that the stove is still switched on. Service centres could one day be assigned to follow up the data being sent into their office in order to observe the lives of the seniors.

However, there is still a long way to go before these visions will become reality because „the mills grind very slowly“ as Wichert puts it. The computer scientist points out two problems that need to be solved before: Firstly, questions surrounding the financing need to be solved. Who is going to pay the costs for installing such systems in the flat: The seniors alone or with the participation of health care insurances? Secondly, the products that slowly emerge onto the market now are not really ready for sensible application according to the scientist. „People normally have many problems that cannot be solved with a sole product“, Wichert points out. Since every manufacturer works with a specially self-designed sensor technology the different systems cannot be efficiently connected with each other. „The next step that would need to be made now would be to get the industry together at a table in order to work out certain standards.“ Only that way the products would become efficient and therefore also cheaper. „When this happens I foresee a great future for the concept of AAL“, the scientist believes.

- Part 1: Bits and Bytes in Doctor's Robes
- Part 2: 3D Cinema with Horror Elements


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