15 November 2022

Can wearables make healthcare easier and more efficient?

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Wearables are devices like your smartwatch or smartphone. Devices that you constantly wear with you and which collect data. This helps us better understand how our bodies are functioning and whether we are meeting personal goals, such as how many steps you have taken, the number of calories you burn and the number of hours you sleep. But what could we do with the mountain of data being monitored from a healthcare perspective? Could wearables support healthcare with a faster signalling function? An interdisciplinary team, which includes Fontys ICT students and researchers, is finding out in the research project 'From Sensors to Care'.

Stress detection

As humans, we are naturally bad at signalling our stress in time. In fact, there is no single signal from our body that indicates stress. In some cases, stress is even desirable or natural, for example in an exciting situation, such as a high-risk sport or an important presentation. That, according to Petra Heck, researcher at Fontys ICT, associated with the AI & Big Data lectorate, is where the challenge lies: "What we are trying to do is to signal unwanted or problematic stress based on the data with advanced AI algorithms. In addition, students are also working on the data platform in which this information is unlocked, which is quite a challenge in itself."

Case study

Besides the technical side, the project is also running two case studies. These will test whether stress detection adds value in two specific patient groups. These involve people with dementia, a group where misunderstood behaviour is often seen. Stress detection can provide better care and understanding. The second case study concerns patients with Persistent Physical Complaints (ALK). Here, stress and relaxation detection can make the difference in better management of one's own physical condition through preventive action. Physiotherapists will test its use, says researcher Manon Peeters-Schaap, affiliated with Fontys Paramedische Hogeschool: "Physiotherapists will test prototypes of wearables in practice. This will be done in the first instance with healthy test subjects in controlled environments, and in the second instance with clients under the guidance of a physiotherapist."

More than IT

The project is a collaboration between several Fontys institutes, external technology partners, healthcare institutions and a consortium healthcare organisation. This interdisciplinary cooperation is especially needed in healthcare practice, explains Manon Peeters-Schaap: "The challenge is to still create a situation of stress or relaxation in a safe environment. For this, we need to work closely with healthcare institutions and the subjects, but also with partners who can provide the technology to monitor effectively. We will use technology, such as VR, to create the experience stress or relaxation, but also think about breathing exercises."

Ethics and technology

This project has a third component besides technology and healthcare practice, and that is the ethical or legal side. Current privacy and liability laws are very strict, even when it comes to biomedical data, but also leave a lot of ambiguity about what can and cannot be done. For this reason, the Fontys-Avans Law School is also involved in the project, Heck explains: "The technology is basically there, it's a matter of finding the right AI applications to bring out insights. The question therein is how to do that in an ethically responsible way, which also fits within the legal frameworks of, for example, privacy legislation. We hope to find answers to that too in this project, so that the use of wearables as care-supporting technology comes a big step closer."

The project is made possible by RAAK-mkb funding and is led by researcher Dr Manon Peeters-Schaap of Fontys Paramedische Hogeschool . The project is linked to the Professorship AI & Big Data and the Knowledge Centre Applied AI for Society.

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