Internet of things? No, Internet of the body!

Posted on: 30.11.2016 Tags:



Once upon a time…

This is the classic way to start a tale:  let me explain you a true story.

Once upon a time there was an MD called Dr. María Ángeles Medina (Twitter: @magelesmedina), she was a GP and an entrepreneur. She liked jogging (in Spain, we would caller her “a runner”). Her husband, also an MD, gave her the gift of a pulsometer from a well-known brand, to help her monitor her heartrate while she was out running. She noted that her heartrate readings were too high when she was running, so she thought that the wearable had a problem with accuracy. But, after eight months of irregular readings, she decided to wear a medical device to be able to compare the readings of both devices. When the medical devices showed up the same high heartrate, she investigated further and discovered that she had Barlow’s disease, a mitral valve illness. Her condition was qualified as severe, but not irreversible. She underwent three hours of open-heart surgery to replace a mitral valve and now, thankfully, she feels very well.

The wearable pulsometer had saved her life, but only because she had the medical knowledge and expertise to recognise that something was wrong, and the know-how to be able to properly investigate it. What would be the outcome of this tale if it involved people without medical knowledge? The likely sad ending would be a sudden death while out running.

Habemus wearables.

Despite the fact that everyone practicing sport should be checked up by doctor specialised in sport at least once a year, the reality is that too few people actually get these kind of checkups. There are a lot of people practicing sports (mainly jogging) without adequate advice and/or medical supervision.

Also, it is increasingly easy to find people wearing devices from different wearable vendors, that measure different parameters, or even common parameters measured by different devices and stored in different apps. Some apps might be connected to platforms like Microsoft Health, Google Fit or Apple Health (to mention just a few), but other apps are not capable of connecting to these platforms.

In fact, there is the potential to gather a lot of data about our bodies, from different, fragmented sources and with a variable degree of accuracy. If you remember my last HIMSS Europe post “Big mess or big data?”, it seems that we are talking again about big data, and the need for ontologies also in our wellness / wellbeing / health personal data. 

Internet of the Body.

Our wearables are specialised IoT (Internet of Things) devices. So, to differentiate from other non-health devices, we could call this subset the “Internet of the Body” (IoB), these devices are designed to wear on our bodies (internally or externally) and to measure different wellness and /or health parameters.

So, what if the data all these IoB devices collect could be organised through a common framework as knowledge, and be treated by a specialised cognitive computing system? 

For example, let’s imagine a patient with an arrhythmia, high blood pressure and a weight loss of 3 Kgs. or more in a 48-hour interval? He or she could be a clear candidate for a cardiovascular incident in the next few hours, right?

As noted previously, this data could easily be coming from three different devices, and without data aggregation and the proper cognitive computing system, the result would be a severe health problem, including death.

A good cognitive computing system could alert the wearer to seek medical help or even launch the appropriate alert to defined medical emergency teams, so that the appropriate steps can be taken to avoid the severe medical outcome described before.

Finally, once again, we see the need for healthcare ontologies

Avoiding severe health outcomes, saving lives, must be the main objective if one were to build a wearables architecture linked to cognitive computing systems.

Once more, what we need is data organised as knowledge.

Once again, we see the need for healthcare ontologies.


P.S.: I would like to thank Dr. Medina for allowing me to refer to her story, she was really a big help.

Rafael Pardo Espino

Senior eHealth Consultant and R&D Manager, Spain