The qualities that we expect in our cell phones and PDAs -- anytime connection and low-cost, widely available devices -- soon may become common in health-care devices at home and in doctors' offices. The University of Florida (UF) and IBM have developed a new technology that creates a roadmap for widespread commercial development of "smart" medical devices.

These devices could take a person's blood pressure, temperature, or respiration rate the minute a person steps into his or her house, then transmit it immediately and automatically to doctors or family, eliminating the need for some doctors' visits. The technology differs from telemedicine in that it provides the technological roadmap that makes it easy for companies to make and sell the devices.

With $60,000 in research funding from IBM, the UF team designed middleware that can give this and any similar health-aid devices independence and connectivity. The software is based on open standards. The hardware component is an inexpensive sensor platform half the size of a business card that enables information to be available on a computer network.

The technology may be useful in other medical settings such as emergency rooms. Rather than a standard waiting list, patients could be equipped with networked wireless monitors of their vital signs, allowing doctors to determine who in a waiting room needs the most immediate care.

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