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Home-centric Hospital

At right the hospital setting for analysing the Respiratory Exchange Rate, on the left the same analyses performed at home. Image credit: Lumen

We have seen over the last 70 years a progressive squeezing of size and decreasing of price of high tech systems to the point that it has become feasible the shift from centralisation to decentralisation. When I started working, “the computer” was a big, costly, machine that could only be accessed through intermediaries (sort of IT priests). The coming of shared processing, whereby I could access from a teletype from remote, was a momentous change. Now most computers are invisible: they hide in our car key, in the washing machine even in a cable adaptor! Computers today are massively distributed and it is basically impossible to find a home without a few of them (if you have a cellphone you have a – very powerful- computer…).

This distribution of electronics in our homes is now flanked by a rise of sensors that produce data and software that can analyse these data calling for actions. In a few years (some) manufacturing will start to shift from centralised factories to homes as well as  some services will be created locally rather than centrally. Healthcare services will most likely be the most impactful ones.

The pandemic and the bottleneck of centralised healthcare is accelerating the decentralisation of healthcare. The ubiquitous presence of sensors and good communication infrastructures facilitates the decentralisation of some functionality at home. Digital scale, digital thermometer, digital blood pressure and heart beats measure are just a few of a growing set of sensing capabilities that can harvest physiological data. Add to these the possibility of delivering drugs on demand through embedded dispensers and you see a closing loop with the home premises playing a growing role in healthcare.

Further down the lane, but just round the corner, is the use of the smartphone for a variety of sensing and processing (like analysing voice patterns, cough, sneezing, oscillation of the head – for the detection of carotid atheroscleroses- assessment of capillary blood circulation, retinal scan…) -watch the clip- and the availability of lab on a chip to detect presence of antibodies, viruses and bacteria. You start to get the picture.

Interestingly, sophisticated medical equipment can now be miniaturised and made affordable enabling home testing. One example is the Lumen metabolism analyser – see the picture. This is a complex exam that required a sophisticated -and bulky- equipment. Now Lumen is offering a easy to use handheld device for just 299$ that can provide pretty accurate estimate of your metabolic rate. Although an exam performed in an hospital setting, with qualified technician is more accurate the possibility of performing that exam on a daily base at home provides many more data that in the end provide more accurate information on your metabolism.

This is just an example. Over the coming years healthcare at home will be booming resulting in lower cost and better services. Most importantly, this will increase the possibility to offer good healthcare to people living in remote places and in developing countries since the investment required is much lower. Any village in a developing country can provide basic testing for a variety of pathologies and remote consulting can indicate and monitor the cure.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.