How can we use smart mobile technologies to improve our health?

Alamgir Hossain, Director of ARITI

Developing expert systems as apps that allow us to manage our own health and wellbeing

Professor Alamgir Hossain's research covers computational intelligence for modelling; optimisation and real-time solutions, with a particular focus on mobile enabled intelligent self-diagnosis and learning; the computer system and internet security domain; designing intelligent algorithms for authentication; real-time protection from phishing attack, boot-net attack; location-based authentication using encrypted GPS signal; and advanced security protocol design.

What was the starting point for your work?

Imagine a world in which you can carry out your own eye test to assess the weakness of your eyes, as well as predict the probability of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. For many people, getting to see a medical expert can be a challenge, particularly if their geographic location or economic situation limits them. Our research aims to develop a smart mobile-enabled healthcare solution that will have a positive impact on society and help make all of our lives better.

What exactly is a ‘smart mobile enabled healthcare solution’?

Smart mobile technology can be used to develop applications (apps) that help us manage our own health and well-being without the need for sometimes intrusive and expensive visits to the doctor. The apps are developed based on existing experts’ knowledge and are therefore expected to perform as experts. The health and social care industry faces many challenges, including the need to balance the scales between improved patient care, reduced financial strain and increased adoption of innovative practices in hospitals, clinics and self-health management.

What were your research objectives?

Our research project ‘My-Medics’ has specifically investigated the development of mobile apps that aim to empower patients and improve the relationship between patients, doctors and healthcare providers. My-Medics is a mobile app that gives a patient the autonomy to manage their own health. This is particularly beneficial for sufferers of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, as it reduces the need for multiple healthcare appointments.

Getting IT specialists, eye specialists, clinicians and designers to come together has resulted in some exciting new tools that have the potential to make us healthier for less money.

How does the My-Medics research project achieve this?

We worked in collaboration with colleagues from various disciplines including optometrists, eye specialists, clinicians and designers which allowed us to create a research project that investigates the many facets of smart mobile technology and its benefits: regular diagnosis; monitoring; prognosis; personal health management; and the generation of learning material from internet sources for patients. If we take our sight as an example, the mobile enabled intelligent eye test (iTest) helps to identify various diseases through retinal imaging capture. The iTest is particularly helpful in the research of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, trauma, neuropsychiatric, movement disorder, Parkinson and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Are there economic benefits, too?

It’s no secret that the NHS is under pressure to look after a growing and ageing population but also to make significant cost savings. Research projects like My-Medics have the potential to save the NHS money, whilst also reducing the strain on doctors. I affectionately refer to this app as the ‘Doctor in your Pocket’ because it empowers the patient to manage their own health instantly, without the need to see a doctor in person. Information and data can be uploaded to the app and shared with your doctor in real-time, improving patient/doctor care.

The major benefit of such a device is the ‘anytime, anywhere’ function, and the fact that it can be operated by anyone. For example, aid workers in hard-to-reach communities in parts of Africa, could access the technology via a smart phone, so increasing access to healthcare and early diagnosis. Going forward, we hope to extend the current system of this research project to include skin cancer detection. I affectionately refer to this app as the ‘Doctor in your Pocket’ because it empowers the patient to manage their own health instantly, without the need to see a doctor. The smartphone has a microscopic lens attached to it that takes pictures (retinal images) of the eye. The software then analyses the image and performs a diagnosis based on this image, in much the same way your doctor or optometrist would. The advantage of using a microscopic lens is that it allows the system to capture high resolution retinal images. We are calling this the intelligent eye test, or iTest.

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