Tackling stress in healthcare sector with wearables

Fontys Information and Communication Technology
Can wearables such as smartwatches and smartphones make care around stress easier and more efficient? That question is the focus of the research project "From sensors to care," which was set up by an interdisciplinary team within Fontys.

That team is certainly not the least of them, either. Fontys Hogeschool ICT (FHICT), the Juridische (JHS) and the Paramedische Hogeschool (FPH) are all connected to the research - which started in 2017, explains Manon Peeters of FPH. "From practitioners we got the question whether sensors can be better used in healthcare. We are now doing plenty of research into that."

About six years ago Fitbits, bands that collect all kinds of data to monitor your health, were hugely popular. "These sensors you carry with you constantly and allow you to better understand how your body is functioning. Think of a pedometer, the hours you sleep or the number of calories you burn per day," said Petra Heck from ICT. "But just imagine what all you could do with that mountain of data from a healthcare perspective."

Legal and technical issues
What is the role of each institution in this? Noortje Lavrijssen of the Juridische Hogeschool explains what the role of her students entails. "Within our program, we make a case for advising on the front end. Lawyers often indicate what cannot be done, but we want to initiate a culture change."

"That's why within this project we are looking together with the client at what exactly can be done when it comes to privacy and data protection. Another student highlights the rules of health law, more specifically the Care and Compulsion Act, and yet another focuses on intellectual property law."

From ICT, several students are naturally involved in the technical side of the project, Heck explains. "For example, we are now looking at an algorithm to detect stress in wearable data. One group of software engineering students is building a data platform, others are working on user interaction, and work is being done on the business processes behind the data so that we have a clear understanding of what we can do with the data we collect."

Stress detection
The data being collected should eventually lead to a better form of stress detection that will enable better support for care. And that is necessary, according to Peeters, because there is no precise indicator that indicates stress. 

"With the algorithms we are developing we are trying to identify unwanted or problematic stress so that it can be solved as efficiently as possible. Sometimes we also want to measure what relaxes or 'de-stresses.' In addition, stress does not always have to be negative. For example, someone who is very enthusiastic also has a high stress level. This is also useful in healthcare to detect."

To test the use of the research, the wearables, which contain the research group's custom-designed software, are divided into two groups: people with dementia and people with Persistent Physical Complaints (ALK). 

"The first group involves people with dementia, their informal caregivers and caregivers," Peeters explained. "The second group involves people with ALK and physical therapists. Indeed, in both contexts, stress management plays an important role in daily life. This system, which consists of the wearables and the software, measures stress and can support these people."

Joint goal
The results resulting from the research will ultimately be used to work toward a common goal: to create a moment of relaxation within a stressful situation. "People with ALK can be aware of this themselves. For people with dementia, it's important for caregivers so they understand their client's moments of stress and relaxation."

Whether the system for measuring stress actually works in practice remains to be seen. But the three researchers are confident. "The project has been around for about five years, but we are really only at the beginning. We had to do a lot of preliminary research involving all the requirements from practice."

Leaps and bounds
That led to the possible solution that will soon be tried out in practice. "After that, we can probably go back to the drawing board to optimize the system to measure stress. That could also well take another two years. But by then we will have made huge leaps forward to support care around stress."

In doing so, Peeters sees the added value not only for society, but also for researchers and the students involved. "It really has added value, at different levels. We also really function as one team with the different institutes in this regard. In that respect, I could never have achieved this within just our program either."

Source: bron.fontys.nl