I don't like the way you walk...

A screen shot of the Gait Monitor Application on the smart phone. Credit: University of Illinois.

Gait parameters used for gait model in the statistical machine learning algorithm, recorded from the spatiotermporal phone motion and transformed into body motion for gait analysis. Credit: Joshua Juen et al., Telemedicine and e-Health

In the past medicine was all about observing the patient, looking at his nails, the sclera, the stiffness of joints, even the taste of urine...

Then science took over in terms of chemical analyses and more and more sophisticated technologies took the centre stage (names like TAC, PET, fMRI... are part of everyday medicine today).

Now we are reaching a point where technology, in particular sensors and software, are becoming so effective and so cheap that they can transform medicine becoming part of everyday life, transforming the very basic idea of medical examination into a sort of continuous monitoring and in turns this is leading to proactive medicine (but also to personalised cure, where continuous monitoring of the effect of the cure is crucial). It is also more than this since a continuous monitoring can provide feedback to the person and hints on improving his lifestyle providing immediate feedback on variations in the health status and hazards that the changes in lifestyle are having, thus bringing the individual at the centre stage of his own health care.

All of this is fine, but it is also opening a can of worms. What about insurance companies, or event the National Health Care system knowing about your unhealthy habits and being tempted to cut your health benefits (or increase the fee to access them...), what about Companies employing you that can be held responsible for increasing your stress level (now objectively measurable) and therefore increasing your health risks, or about a premises with potentially unhealthy environment.... Knowledge is not always positive, it has drawback...

And yet, this is the way for the future, and this is what we are looking at in one of the EIT ICT labs action lines, the Health and Well Being one.

All of this was prompted by a news I caught at the University of Urbana Champaign, Illinois, US, about a gait monitor that can be embedded in your smart phone.

The researchers there have developed an application that can monitor the gait (the walking pattern) of a person based on the sensor contained in the cell phone (the accelerometer) over the day. Doctors are using a 6 minutes walk test on patient with lung and heart problems by having them wearing a pedometer. 

Researchers at Urbana have found that the information derived from data generated by the cell phone accelerator can be more accurate than the one generated by the pedometer and more than that such an information can be harvested continuously and can generate alarm signal in case of emerging problems, even before the person perceives that something is wrong.

The application, GaitTrack, is now being tested in a broader set of trials. We have come a long way from that first experiment of radio transmission Marconi carried out in his attic in 1894....

Author - Roberto Saracco

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