Telehealth—the use of telecommunications to provide health information and services—will transform healthcare as new inexpensive, lightweight sensors make it possible to collect high-quality medical data at any time from any location.

AT&T’s role is communicating the sensor-collected health data securely through the broadband network and allowing doctors and others to view and interpret it, making remote health monitoring possible and shifting healthcare from expensive medical facilities to the home. The wealth of high-quality medical data will also change the healthcare model from one of sickness treatment to one of wellness maintenance.

Making telehealth work requires standards and integrated solutions. AT&T Research is working with standards bodies such as the IEEE, industry groups such as Continua Health Alliance, and device-makers to ensure that the telehealth remote monitoring future is built on a platform of solid science and good networking architectures.

One example of a needed standard is the choice of wireless protocol for transmitting sensor data from devices to the AT&T broadband networks. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are possibilities, but AT&T Research is focusing on ZigBee, since its radios send small packets of data, such as temperature or glucose readings, using much less battery power than point-to-point radios such as Bluetooth.

For device-makers, AT&T Research is demonstrating how ordinary, standalone health devices—scales, pill dispensers, blood-pressure meters, pulse-oximeters, glucometers—can become wireless, portable Personal Health Devices (PHDs) capable of storing and transmitting medical data. To prove the concept, AT&T researchers are modifying such devices by inserting a small communications board complete with CPU, memory, a ZigBee chip, and serial interface into them. (The board also ensures compatibility with AT&T Labs’ Actuarius gateway so devices can be integrated into AT&T’s telehealth trials and offerings.)

One PHD already in clinical trials is aimed at preventing falls among the elderly. AT&T Research has partnered with the device-maker 24Eight, which is embedding pressure sensors and accelerometers into shoe insoles to gather information about a patient’s foot movement and weight distribution. Foot movement data is transmitted over AT&T's network to a doctor’s office, where it can help predict who is at risk of falling (indicated by deteriorating balance), provide clues to developing health problems, or alert that a patient has fallen.

Slippers with the insoles are currently moving toward clinical trials at the Garrison Geriatric Education and Care Center in Lubbock, Texas, in cooperation with Texas Tech University.

By building and demonstrating prototype devices, AT&T Research is creating and validating specifications that can serve as a basis for mass-producing medical devices with communications ability.

Tech Icon Video from AT&T Tech Channel

Project Members

Robert Miller

Lusheng Ji

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