Topical themes

E-HEALTH: VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES TO SUPPORT CHRONIC PATIENTS

Researchers from the Telemedicine department are conducting a study among five hundred patients suffering from cardiovascular conditions to determine whether their health improves when they take part in ‘virtual communities’. A mobile system is used to send them advice and instructions about diet, exercise and medication.

Chronic patients who are in contact with others in the same position are generally more likely to follow medical advice. Online support groups in which patients share information and experiences have been shown to be a valuable adjunct to the treatment provided by the medical profession. Nevertheless, the full potential of such 'communities' has yet to be tapped. Doctors can offer advice, but they cannot continually monitor whether that advice is being followed. The virtual communities set up by Telemedicine go a step further than the existing support groups. Within the new secure platforms, professionals and fellow patients can offer specific instructions and advice. Moreover, users need not sit at the computer all day: the system relies on a small portable device.

Direct instructions and feedback
The study involves five hundred patients suffering from a chronic cardiovascular condition. Many have been required to make drastic changes to their lifestyle. The fully secure system enables the doctor to issue regular instructions for exercise, and for taking the right dose of drugs at the right time. Cardiologists can also obtain direct feedback about a person's level of physical activity, which is measured by sensors attached to the body.

Telemedicine is part of two research institutes of the University of Twente. MIRA is the Institute of Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine. CTIT conducts research in the field of information technology. Cooperation between the two institutes has led to the development of various e-health and remote care applications.