Doctors' offices may soon become much less crowded. AT&T is developing a software tool and networking platform that will use wireless devices to record a patient's health measurements at home and send the data to the doctor. AT&T's system runs on both Wi-Fi — enabling videoconferencing — and a second wireless technology named ZigBee, which receives data from medical sensors. ZigBee consumes considerably less power than Wi-Fi, so monitoring devices, including thermometers, pill dispensers, blood-pressure monitors, and pulse oximeters, can use small batteries to transmit data over long periods of time.
Home-based monitoring services like AT&T's — which is approaching the trial stage — could transform how doctors interact with their patients. "The health-care industry is under a lot of stress," says Bob Miller, executive director of AT&T's communications-technology research department, "so there's a drive to explore ways of delivering better care at lower cost." And greater convenience for both doctor and patient: If a physician notices, for instance, that a blood-pressure medication isn't working, or if the patient isn't taking the drugs regularly, she'll be able to arrange a videoconference with the patient to discuss solutions.
AT&T isn't alone in exploring telemedicine technology, and the good news is that firms in this growing niche are banding together. AT&T is a member of the Continua Health Alliance — the group also includes Bayer, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Novartis — which is working to make medical-monitoring devices interoperable.
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A version of this article appeared in the February 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.