A Magic Wand for Home Care

A magic wand-like device for home care under development through a multi-university project could help doctors monitor their patients between visits from afar.

The prototype bears the name “Wanda” and is part of a $10-million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University. It’s aimed at developing ways to protect patient confidentiality amid a health care shift from hospitals and doctors’ office to the home, the Associated Press reported.

Goals for the device relate to safety and simplicity.

“Quite frequently in the computer security business, we invent things that are super secure but hard to use, and people don’t understand them,” said Tim Pierson, doctoral student and Wanda’s creator. “We set out to make something that my parents and in-laws could use.”

The wand relies on Wi-Fi to operate, and the prototype currently consists of a ruler with two attached antennas. Plug it into a Wi-Fi router, and it acquires the network name and password. From there, it can be detached and pointed at a medical device to connect the latter to the network, as well.

For example, if a doctor sends a patient home with a Wi-Fi-enabled blood pressure cuff, the patient can simply point the wand at the cuff rather than manually enter a password to establish a Wi-Fi connection. And once the connection is made, blood pressure readings will be transmitted to the doctor’s office.

“One of the good things about this system is that the user doesn’t even have to know that information,” Pierson told the AP. “The wand can get it from your Wi-Fi router and impart it on the device. We talked to a lot of people who have Wi-Fi in their homes and have no idea what their password is.”

However, one implication the wand concept is that the medical device must have wireless capabilities.* It would also need to run roughly 20 lines of software to identify Wanda’s Wi-Fi packets and decode the information sent by the wand, Pierson told Home Health Care News.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

*The story has been updated to reflect that the medical device must have wireless capabilities, not necessarily extra sensors or equipment as previously reported.